Authors: Jules Moulin
NINE FINAL PAPERS SAT
on the ottoman. Tucked in a chair, red pen in hand, Ally started to try to read them. Which one first? She wasn't sure: “Nin, the Major Minor Writer?” “AnaÃ¯s and the Younger Man?” “Nin and the Narcissist?” “Lies and Liasions?”
She couldn't decide. Boxes surrounded her. She worked in the room and used it for storage. She'd discovered some childhood clothes recently, Christmas dresses and patent leather shoes. A red velvet coat lay across a box, waiting for Lizzie to try it on. It might fit, Ally thought, staring at the coat. Lizzie, at ten, was taller than Ally had been at twelve.
She should have been reading.
Why wasn't she reading? That coat reminded Ally of her first kiss. Her first
Chase Fenton had left the foyer to help his mother with something upstairs. Ally was standing in first position, practicing pliÃ©s, waiting for Claire.
Gazing down at her patent leather shoes, she decided she was too old for Mary Janes. Thirteen! she scoffed, and still in buckles? Claire
to buy her a new pair soon. Without straps. She had to.
Chase's father, Mr. Fenton, stumbled from the powder room singing and happy. Some carol. He saw Ally, straightened his tie, tucked in his shirttails, and teetered to her. He looked dazed. “Leaving, Ally?”
“Yes, Mr. Fenton.” The red velvet coat hung over her arm.
“Where's your mother?”
“I don't know.” She looked toward the kitchen. “Saying good night?”
“Well,” he said and staggered close. “It's nice to see you. Honey. It is. We should seeâmore of you.” He reached his arms wide, threw them around her, and pulled her in close. Then he pulled back and kissed her, parting her lips with his tongue.
Ally was stunned.
She'd been waiting for a kiss. She had been sure Chase would kiss her that night, if they could steal a moment alone. They'd talked about it in math class. He'd sent her a note: “We're kissing. Tonight.”
kissed Ally at the Christmas party. Not Chase. He kissed her, stumbled off, and forgot a minute later.
Ally remembered. Her first kiss. Her first French kiss. Her first French kiss with a senior partner at Goldman Sachs.
When she got home, she took off her shoes and handed them to Claire. “Goodwill,” she said. “I'm too old for these.” She ran upstairs and called Anna. “Yuck!” she said, laughing. “His actual tongue!” She could still taste the gin.
Ally looked up from the red velvet coat. She heard the sound of a lawn mower. Or she thought she did. The smell of freshly cut grass wafted in. Someoneâsomeone was mowing her lawn. Jake? She got up to check.
In the backyard, Jake slowed down and cut the engine as Ally walked up through the soft green grass. “What are you doing?” she asked, laughing.
“What does it look like?”
“What?” He wiped his brow, covered with sweat. The day was unusually hot for late May, already in the seventies. Jake was barefoot, in jeans, and bare chested. He'd taken off his shirt. “I want to do this.”
“You need it. This house, this yardÂ .Â .Â . needs help. I want to cut back that stuff near the door. It's safer that way. And maybe some sensor lights? Ever thought of that?” He looked unhappy with the state of the yard.
“Thank you,” said Ally. “Really?”
“Why not? This is how the Bean boys roll.”
She could only smile. How could she fight him?
“Foreplay begins by mowing the lawn.”
“Foreplay?” she said. “I thought you were leaving!”
“Taking out the garbage. Opening the door. Putting down the lid without being asked. Treat your lady like the queen she is.”
lady? I'm your lady?”
“Mine for the moment. Total ownership. All my brothers are happily married. Works for them. You don't agree?”
Ally shrugged. “I don't know, Jake. What do I know? Look at my life.”
Jake smiled. “Listen, you fold your towels in thirds. That's class. We fold our towels in half at our house. You're doing great.”
Ally laughed and studied him.
Why did she feel as if she'd known him for years?
“That fence, the links, sticking out there?” Jake pointed to the chain-link fence that bordered the yard. “I want to fix it. I'll do my work. You do yours. I'll meet you in the shower in ninety minutes.”
Ally stood there, hands on her hips. “So I'm supposed toâgo back upstairsâread all about Gore Vidal and Henry Millerâwhile you're here naked and sweating? Please!”
“You can do it,” Jake said facetiously. “I believe in you. Go.”
She looked at the mower. “You shouldn't push that around in bare feet. You could lose a toe.”
could,” Jake said. Yanking the pull cord, he fired up the blades.
mother?” Lizzie asked, shocked. She stared into space, eyes wide, trying to parse and file this confession. “You and my mother had actual
It was Tuesday morning. They sat at the bar at Bubby's in TriBeCa.
Jake was nursing a mug of coffee and eating his way through a basket of biscuits. Deeply hungover, he nodded at Lizzie. The Grey Goose people had paid him to attend a party that morning, starting at midnight, ending at five. Now it was ten and he cupped his hands around his coffee as if it might keep him from floating away.
“That's why she called!” Lizzie said. “She called me a hundred times yesterday!”
“Could you keep it down?” Jake asked kindly. His head was pounding.
“I'm sorry, but this is too incredible.” Lizzie was delighted.
“Call her back. She wants to talk.”
“I cannot believe I
“There had to be cluesÂ .Â .Â .” Her thoughts raced back over Saturday night: Jake's arrival, Ally's reaction. Then she remembered. “She ran! When you met! When you shook hands!”
“What?” Jake bit into a greasy biscuit.
“She bolted upstairs! She totally freaked! I cannot believeâ How stupid am I?”
“That's yourâthat's your
?” he asked as he chewed a buttery bite. He put down the biscuit and picked up his mug. “That's your concern? That you didn't somehowÂ .Â .Â .”
Lizzie only half listened. Excited, she pulled her purse from the bar and took out her phone. “Wait, so she knows?” she asked, distracted.
“She knows what?”
“That you're telling me now?”
She shook her head. It was all too great. She texted Weather, fingertips flying over the touch pad. “Weather is going to love thisÂ .Â .Â .” She put the phone down on the copper-topped bar and turned her attention back to Jake. “I cannot believe she
“Screwed?” Jake cringed and placed his mug back down on the bar. “It wasn't
“But you were her student! She's so naughty!”
“No, she's not.” He looked away and motioned to the barkeep to refill his coffee. “But you're okay? You're not upset?”
Lizzie checked her phone. She couldn't stop smiling. “Upset? No. I mean, it's vile.”
“Why is it
“Because she's my
Do I have to explain?” She slid off the barstool.
“She is your mom, but she is a woman.”
“No kidding. Can you buy my juice? I have a thing. I have to bounce.”
“Sure, butÂ .Â .Â . there's a part two.”
“Oh, Weather!” Lizzie cried and picked up her phone to show him the text. “Weather wrote back: âBadass Mom!'” Lizzie's fingertips flew in response. “Weather worships my mom so muchÂ .Â .Â . She is so in love with my momÂ .Â .Â .”
Jake took his chance. “Me too,” he said.
Lizzie glanced up and smiled but kept texting. She didn't hear him.
Jake said it louder. “I am in love with your mother too.”
She heard him that time and looked up to see him, sheepish and blushing. All the laughter left her eyes.
Jake, again, cupped his mug in prayer.
Lizzie stopped texting and put the phone down, back on the bar. Then she thought better, picked it up again, and put it away, back into her bag. She slipped back onto the barstool and sat there, eyebrows furrowed. She moved a bracelet up and down her wrist. Finally she turned and said, “You didn't know? That we were related? Until you saw her?” She sounded hurt.
“Yeah,” said Jake. “We were both surprised.”
Lizzie nodded. “That's your story?”
“My story?” Raising his eyebrows, he shook his head. “I didn'tÂ .Â .Â . put it together.”
Lizzie squinted. She didn't believe him. “But you knew Hughes. You knew Providence.”
yearsÂ .Â .Â . ago.” Jake shrugged and looked at her, eyes wide, over his mug. “You called her
Lizzie studied him. “You know,” she started, “just because you actâ
wellâin front of a cameraâdoesn't meanâ”
“What? What? What do I have toâhave toâ
âto make you believe me?”
,” Lizzie snapped with condescension. “And second, there's nothing you
say. I know you're lying. You weren't
when you shook her hand.”
“Come on. I wasâ”
“Stop,” she said forcibly, cutting him off. “Stop. It's insulting. Do you think I'm dumb? I skipped grades twice and finished school at
I did Duke in
years. My IQ is higher than ninety-nine percent of the population's. Point six.”
Jake said nothing.
Lizzie continued. “I threw myself at youâfor a month. I offered to spend the night with youâat your hotelâfor three weeks. Please. You
me to get to my mom. Admit it,
Stop lying and act like a man. Just admit it. I know the truth. There's no need toâ”
“Fine!” he blurted out. “I was in love with her ten years ago! I thought I still was, but I wasn't sure, and I am! You're right! I did it! I lied! I'm sorry!” he said.
Lizzie leaned on the bar and smiled. That was all. She wanted to break him. She wanted to win and she did. That was it. “
,” she said, forgiving him instantly. “Actually, it all makes sense.”
“What makes sense?” Jake said bitterly.
“You and my mom. You're both good-looking. You're both criers.”
“What? I'm not aâ”
“You both have that sincerity thing, which is so Nick Drake and annoying. You're sweet. You're both shitty liars.”
“That's true,” Jake agreed.
“In fact, you may be perfect for each other!” Lizzie laughed. “How weird is that?”
Jake studied her for a moment, remembering the weekend in Providence. “You know, we
when you were ten.”
did?” she said. This was a morning filled with surprises. “You just keep rocking my world.”
“Your mom hired me to build a bunk bed. For your birthday.”
Jake smiled. “I put it together.” He sipped his coffee. “Man, you two are nothing alike.”
“Yes, we are.” Lizzie slipped from the stool again. “No one thinks so 'cause I'm tall and gorgeous and she's short and, you knowâ”
“What? Pretty? Smart? Sexy?”
“Yup. See? I told you we are.” She reached into her bag and took out her phone. “I have an audition. I have to bounce.” She texted Weather again. They were meeting.
“A cam-girl thing, but don't tell my mom.” She leaned in and took a last sip of juice. “Wait. You talked. Does she love you? My mom?”
“No. I didn't admit itâto her.” Jake straightened up. “Cam girl, likeâ?”
“Does she love you? Do you think she does?”
“I don't know.”
She reached for her wallet inside her purse. “I'm doing the reach. You buying breakfast?”
“Yeah, I got it, but, Lizzie, wait. What kind of cam girl?”
“The only kind.” She slipped her bag over her shoulder. “You should tell her. See what she says.”
“It's only an audition, and Weather is coming.”
“Why would youâ
“To buy my nose.”
“Wait. Can weâ
? Before you go? About this?”
“No. I'm late.” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. She flew down the ramp. “All those clues!” she called across Bubby's. “I love this life!” She pushed through the door.
Jake, alarmed, hailed the barkeep to bring his bill. He reached into his bag, pulled out his phone, and dialed Ally.
ALLY AND JAKE STARED
at the ceiling. Steam rose and pinked their cheeks.
They were both naked in a hot bath, Ally lying on top of Jake, her back against his chest, the back of her head resting on his shoulder.
He ran a tiny bar of soap over her body as if he was playing a Ouija board. “You think you'll get married?” he asked as he circled her belly with the tiny pink bar.
“Oh my goodness,” Ally said, closing her eyes, luxuriating in his soft caress. “I can't date, much less get marriedÂ .Â .Â .”
“Why not?” he asked, switching hands and moving the soap to her left breast. He circled it around, then moved it back down and across her waist, taking it again with his right fingers.
“Logistics,” she said. “I make seventy thousand a yearÂ .Â .Â . fifty after taxesÂ .Â .Â . I'm on my ownÂ .Â .Â . College will be, I don't know, thirty-five, by the time Lizzie goesÂ .Â .Â . per yearÂ .Â .Â . I can't afford a babysitter.”
Jake considered this. “How will you ever meet anyone?”
“I won't,” Ally said without self-pity. “But that's okay. I have a planÂ .Â .Â .”
“Tell me,” he said. He ran the soap along the short diagonal path that divided her leg from the start of her torso. Ally's bikini line, if she had one. And then he moved it between her legs. “Tell me the plan.”
She winced with pleasure and closed her eyes. “Oh my goodness, that feels soÂ .Â .Â .”
“What's the plan? I want to know the plan.”
Ally smiled. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. What's the plan?” He brought the soap back to her belly.
Ally relented. “When Lizzie's out of schoolÂ .Â .Â . living responsibly on her ownÂ .Â .Â . I'm going to take a French-style lover.”
“French?” Jake asked, annoyed because he wasn't French. He was Irish and Italian and Polish. American. “Why does he have to be French?”
,” Ally corrected. “Meaning we love each other, and he pays for my life, but we're not married.”
Jake paused. He looked at the wall, at the tile. “Your plan is to find a
,” she insisted. “A lover. We're
love. It's all civilized and grown-up and loving. We're just too old toâ”
“No!” Ally laughed. “He's madly in love. With me. He is. He's just too busy for some conventional hetero-normativeâ”
“Hetero-normative? You mean, like, marriage? He's too busy to marry you? What?” Jake was mocking her. “This is the planâfrom Brown's foremost Fem Ec professor?”
Ally laughed again. She leaned forward and placed her bottom between his legs. She reached and turned the faucet back on. The water was cooling and she wanted it hot.
“So how does it work? With your pimp?”
Ally grimaced, bent her knees, and swiveled around, facing Jake. She pulled her knees up to cover her chest and Jake placed the soap on the edge of the tub. “Well,” she said, “every week he sends a car and his driver takes me to a five-star hotel. Wherever he's staying. Sometimes New York. Sometimes the driver takes me to the airport and hands me a ticket.”
“I check in and go to the room. But he's not there. He's never there.”
“Why not? Where is he?”
“Too busy? When you came all that way?”
“Yes. But the bed is
“Shopping bags filled with lingerie, chocolate, shoesÂ .Â .Â .”
Jake shook his head. “I'm calling Meer. First thing Monday. Ally Hughes is no feminist.”
Ally rose. “That's right. And Meer will agree: Ally's no Marxist. Ally's no feminist: a term that only means two hundred things to two hundred people. And Meer is the proud
feminist because she's âsex-positive'âshe says. Another term that drives me nutsâbecause it implies that if I hate porn, I'm sex-negative. Which I'm not.”
“Then she saysâ
meâof being more third than second wave. Says I've proclaimed some critical stance from second wavers, and so I say, well, if she must
me, peg me, whateverâshe's welcome to call me a retro-essential-feminist-
-with-first-wave-leanings.” She took a breath. “You can too.”
Jake smiled. “Did I push a button?”
Ally relaxed back into the water. “Sorry. But Meer's constructionsâso ivory towerâthey drive meâ I don't know. So many peopleâthey feed and clothe girls, protect womenâwith no allegiance to Meer or anyone's
Jake leaned forward and placed his hands on Ally's thighs, smoothing them in the sudsy water. “Back to the hotel?”
“Sure.” But then she sat up. She couldn't help it. “Meer stole me from Economics. She thought I was
like her. Point by point. But I'm not, so now I'm her giant mistakeâa huge disappointmentâbecause I believe in the
free markets. Capitalism. So now she wants to kick my butt to the curb.”
“Who would kick that pretty butt?”
“Meer,” she said and relaxed back again.
“Breathe,” said Jake. “She's not in the room.”
“Okay, so I get all dolled up. Garters and stuff.”
“Lace.” She smiled and rested her head on the wall to the side of the tap. “He finally comes.” She stretched out her legs on top of Jake's. “We eat, catch up, and then he bends me over the bed and we screw for hours.”
Jake looked jealous for a moment.
“Then I wake up and he's gone. I'm alone.”
“Without a good-bye?”
“It's morning. He's off! And that's the end.”
Jake rolled his eyes.
“So I stay in bed, watch the
show, drink a little coffeeâ”
“He needs to
“I take a dive in the hotel poolâ”
“One of those thingsâthat stuff on the bedâall those giftsâthere should be a ring.”
“A diamond ring. Call me old-fashioned.”
“The bellman comes up, takes down my bagsâ”
“The ring, Ally.”
“Why, Jake? Why the ring?”
“To make it
“The ring makes it real?”
“It makes it a
to something real.”
Ally smirked. “Then I go home and it happens again, every few weeks in all different cities around the world. Paris, London, Rome, LondonÂ .Â .Â .” She sat forward, up on her knees, then stretched out her body on top of his. The tops of her thighs on top of his thighs. Her belly to his belly. Her lips to his lips.
plan,” he said, and she kissed him. “Fancy shit and a guy you only see twice a month?”
“I know,” she said. “I'm so ashamed.” She wasn't at all.
Jake's leer moved past her and landed on a pail perched by his foot. Vinyl sea creatures sat inside it, frogs, fish, snails, next to goggles and a gold bottle of No More Tears. He kicked it all off the edge of the tub.
“Whoops!” Ally turned toward the crash. “You did that on purpose!”
“Yup.” He smiled. They locked eyes as he gripped her ass. Ally felt him grow. Quickly again, it happened so fast, in a matter of seconds, he was large, inflamed, and pressed against her inner thigh.
They had made love already twice in the bath and he wanted her again? Ally was flattered, embarrassed, pleased.
He peeled a tendril of hair from her cheek and tucked it away behind her ear.
She studied him too: His dark blue eyes. The valentine curve of his fleshy lips, bright red and broken from all her sucking. His thick, wet lashes.
She'd never made love in daylight before. She could see him so clearly. Every pore. Every scar. Every freckle.
But it had to be noon. She had so much to do, besides grading papers. “Jake,” she said gently, “I've loved this so muchÂ .Â .Â .” She studied his pink, dewy face.
“But we should get out and get on with our day?”
Ally nodded and smiled regretfully.