Authors: Jules Moulin
MAYBE HE WAS DREAMING
, Ally thought. Maybe all men woke like this. She didn't know. But the smell of him, his sweat and some kind of musky scent, aroused her so much that she reached down and drew him softly between her legs.
Jake's eyelids fluttered open. “Morning,” he whispered and smiled at her.
She gently rolled to straddle him, but Jake stopped her and laid her back down. Pinning her, he moved on top, pressing with his hips. He rose to his elbows and buried his head in Ally's neck. His right hand raised her breast to meet his mouth. His left hand slipped down the side of her body and behind to her buttock, gripping it for ballast.
Ally met him by raising her knees and bit into his shoulder. She ran her fingers through his hair and pulled it taut. This slight infliction drove him wild.
Then she pulled back and studied his jaw, the stubble that matured overnight as they slept, the lines of his waist, cut and drawn, as if he'd been carved.
Morning sex with a beautiful guy, is what she decided, looking at him. A guy. Not a boy, but not quite a man.
A map of Europe hung over her bed. Pearl pushpins marked the cities she wanted to visit: London, Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, FlorenceÂ .Â .Â .
Jake stood naked at the head of the bed, standing on the pillows. He studied her route. “What's all this?” he asked, intrigued.
Ally entered from the bathroom. “I'm saving for a trip. It's only gonna take about forty years.”
“Take me on it.”
She clambered up next to him and pointed to the pin with the number one on it. “First Barcelona. That's first. For the Majestic.”
“It's a hotel. A five-star hotel.” She moved her finger north to France. “Next, Paris, for the HÃ´tel Ritz.”
“No hostels?” Jake said, smiling.
“No backpacks. No hostels. Five-star hotels all the way.”
She was six when she and her mother stayed for two nights at the five-star Fairmont in Nob Hill. Claire had buried Ally's dad in Colma, California, near San Francisco. His childhood home.
At midnight, the second night of their stay, Ally awoke in the king bed alone, alone in the room. She had climbed from the sheets, checked the bathroom for Claire, all the while calling, “Mommy? Mommy?”
Claire was missing.
Tiny Ally, forty-six pounds, in a white nightgown with puffed sleeves, arrived at the lobby but stayed put and stepped back as the elevator doors opened and a horde of hotel guests piled in, careening.
By accident, she couldn't get out. She rode back up in a cloud of perfume and cologne and sweat, staring at ankles and hems and shoes, black men's and shiny high heels with bare ankles.
By the third floor, the crowd dispersed, calling back, “Night!” and “See you at brunch!” and “Be good!” Except for the couple pressed in the corner.
They hadn't seen her, nor she them, until the mob cleared. And as they ascended, Ally watched, for the first time, a man and a woman in the throes of passion: grabbing, groaning, mouthing each other. As if they were racing, Ally thought, to see who could eat up the other one first, like hungry, writhing, zombie monsters.
When the elevator paused and the doors opened on the sixth floor, the couple broke apart and staggered out. “Oh,” said the girl, when she saw Ally over her shoulder. “Oh,” said the man as the doors closed. “Wait!” called the woman as she tried to keep them open while Ally pushed the lobby button down, over and over, for the second time that night.
“They found me,” said Ally, “after midnight. Wandering the lobby, looking for her.”
Jake was still. “Where did she go?”
“No one knew,” Ally said, shrugging.
The man in charge, in a black tux that night, took her on a tour of the palace. A search.
They checked the library. Checked the dining rooms. He took her to the kitchen, where the chef made her toast and chocolate chip cookies, hot from the oven, with glasses of milk. They walked, hand in hand, through the ballrooms.
“There must have been a wedding.”
But at six, she thought they'd entered a ball. An orchestra played. She and the man, whoever he was, danced a few songs out on the floor amid the guests. Ally looked dazed, eyes wide, spotting the bride in a full-skirted white satin dress with semi-cathedral train and tiara. The groom, in his black tux with tails, held her close.
They found Claire at quarter to four, slumped in a chair in the Tonga Room. In her grief, she had drank and drank and drank, and fallen asleep.
“He might have been the manager,” Ally mused. “The concierge, maybe. I wasn't scared.”
Everyone there took care of her. At the hotel. She felt like a princess.
Except for the fact that they'd buried her dad that afternoon, it was a fairy tale come true. She turned to Jake. “Have you ever stayed at a fancy hotel?”
Jake shook his head.
“I knew it wasn't real. But after that week, and such a sad dayâit felt like a dream.”
Later, in the kitchen, Ally placed poached eggs on toasted English muffins and slathered them with hollandaise sauce. “I've been twenty-one and broke,” she said, concerned about Jake. “I had a baby. I know how it feels.” She set the eggs in front of him.
He dug in with a knife and fork. “No cash from you. Sorry, lady.”
Ally gave him a mug filled with coffee. “You did the work.”
“Professor Hughes, let's be clearâ”
“Don't call me that.”
“I don't want a dime.” He picked up her check and tore it in half, then placed it back down.
“We agreed to eight bucks an hour.”
“Which would be what? Forty-two bucks? This check says five hundred.”
“Butâyou might need a bed or a bike. Or
“I didn't come here to work yesterday.”
“No, but then, Jake. This makes me feel like I paid you with sex. Let's keep it separate.”
“I wanted to
something for you. I wanted to be near you. The dead bolt, the bedâwas all an excuse.” Jake swallowed and leaned forward over his plate. “Damn, these eggs!” He looked at Ally. “What about you is
“Everything.” She leaned against the counter, watching him eat. “What about quitting? What's the deal?”
Jake kept eating. “I don't like the people.”
“No. Would I be sitting here? No college girls.”
“What's wrong with college girls?”
He looked up from his plate and swallowed, a bite of egg on the end of his fork. “The best thing about college girls: In ten years they won't be in college anymore, and maybe they'll have something interesting to say.” A bit of yolk dripped down his chin. He grabbed a napkin and wiped it off.
“That's not fair,” Ally argued. “The women in my class have plenty to say.”
, and if I refuse to watch
Party of Five.
“If I want to watch a baseball game, I doubt you'll take that personally. And sex is better with older women.”
“Is that right?”
“Beyond superior,” Jake said. “Older women are better mannered. They're not all princess. They don't perform. As my brother always says, the Zen one, âOlder women are wiser women, and wisdom makes a better man. A better man makes a happy woman. Happy woman, better man.'”
“That's a theory.”
“That's win-win.” Jake smiled.
“I don't believe that. I don't think age brings intelligence with it.”
“Okay, Ally, you're the doctor. You're the genius,” Jake said dryly.
Ally ignored this. “Anyway, if you did stay, if it is about the money, I'm sure Brown has some kind of fund.”
“I don't want to stay and I don't want your check.” He swallowed the last of his eggs, rose, and cleared his plate. “Where's the trash?”
“I'll do it.” She reached for the plate. “We have a disposal.”
“I'll do it,” Jake said, nudging her aside. He went to the sink, grabbed a sponge, and wiped his crumbs into the drain. He rinsed his plate and dried it, too. “You're not my mother. Hand me the pan.”
Ally turned and grabbed the egg pan from the stove.
clean up after me. Ever. Please.”
“Oh?” she replied and dumped the water from the pan. “I thought after sex, I had to do your dishes and pick up your socksÂ .Â .Â .” She swept the orange rinds from the counter and into the sink, and sailed to the fridge.
Jake stopped drying. “That wasn't sex. That wasâI was making love.”
She opened the fridge, then closed it again, forgetting what she had wanted to get.
“Couldn't you feel it?”
She turned, stood still, and didn't respond. Jake grabbed the pan and rinsed it clean. She looked at him. “I wanted to give something to you. A little good-bye-and-good-luck thing. That's all.”
“I don't want your cash. And I'm not leaving yet.”
Ally leaned against the counter and ran her fingers through her hair. She was tired. They'd slept for only a couple of hours.
Jake turned the water off, put down the pan, and crossed to her. He placed his hands around her waist, dug his fingertips into her skin, and held her there. Then he kissed her once on each cheek and once in the center of her forehead, politely, as if she was a girl.
“Please,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Then he cocked his head to the right, leaned in, and kissed her square on the mouth. His right hand found the back of her head, his left, her ass, and he pressed her into a deep, wet kiss that tasted like toast and coffee. Delicious.
Ally opened her eyes. “Oh no. What am I going to do with you?”
“Whatever you want.”
papers to read. By Monday at ten.”
“Go,” Jake said, stepping back toward the sink. He grabbed the sponge. “I'll finish up. Strip down the bed. Get out of your hair.”
“Don't strip the bed.”
“You go to work. I'll come find you before I leave.”
Ally studied him but didn't move.
She wanted him to stay. She loved that he felt so comfortable there, in her house. She didn't have to host him. He fit right in, without her direction, without her permission. It was as if he'd lived there for years. “I'll be in thatâthird bedroom. The one with the boxes. That's where I work.”
DID I WAKE YOU
?” He was soaked through, reeking of whiskey and warm, wet clothes. He stood in the doorway.
“Jake, it's two in theâ”
“I know. I'm sorry.” He had stopped at the Henry Street Ale House and laid back shots of Johnnie Walker Gold, shot after shot, after shot after shot.
By the time he paid and found his way back to Cranberry Street, the August sky had split open wide. It was pouring rain. “I'm sorry. I saw the lights on. IÂ .Â .Â . leftâI'm sorryâI left something here.”
“You did,” Ally said, turning. She scooped up the scarf, hat, and glasses and handed him the bundle. “Where's Lizzie?”
“Clubbing. With Weather.”
She regarded him a moment. “Okay, does she
? Does she know about us?”
“No. No, I swear.”
“Let's get you a towel. Come in, come in.” She stepped back and opened the closet. “I have to tell her. You know that, right?” She pulled a beach towel down from a shelf.
Jake stared at his glasses and cap. “Yeah, I know. I know you do.”
“Did you know before? That it would be me?” She gave him the towel.
“Yes,” he admitted, taking the towel. He threw it over his shoulder.
we were both surprised. It's not as if we could tell her right then. At dinner? With Ted?”
“Right,” he said and punched his cap. He slid it on from back to front and then closed his eyes for a long moment.
“Have you been drinking?”
“I have this thing and I need your help.” He leaned to the other side of the doorway.
“Could you dry off? You're getting my entireâ”
“Sorry,” he said, staring at his feet. He didn't touch the towel. He didn't dry off. He glanced upstairs. They had been here before, at the bottom of a staircase. “So we're clear? Iâleft theseâand stayed in Brooklynâso I could come see you about my thing.” His knees buckled, but he caught himself and straightened. “Iâyou seeâI wrote a script. Actors do that. Sometimes.”
“A screenplay. I'm trying to get this director to do itâthis Martyâand I need your help.”
Ally paused. “How much did you drink?”
Jake shook his head. “We stopped byâI don't know, somewhereâand talked, and then she left, and anyway, I'm back, and I hope you can help. That's why I'm back.”
“Because of your
“That's why I'm back.” He looked at his Ray-Bans. He looked at his scarf. “I wear scarves in summer.” He contemplated this. “That's who I am, Ally, now. It's who I've
“I taught myself to write,” he said. “You remember this?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the book, the paperback book, that Ally had given him ten years ago.
The Elements of Style.
“Oh,” she said as he handed it to her. The spine was splintered, the cover torn, pages battered, folded. She flipped the cover. Her name was scribbled across the page. She couldn't believe it.
“My script is aboutâthe fire you taught us, in Women and Work. The Triangle fire.”
Ally nodded and gave him the book. Yes, she remembered the Triangle fire. She'd taught it.
In 1911, in New York City, teenage girls had asphyxiated, burned, or jumped to their deaths in a factory fire. The ones who survived changed the course of labor rights.
“No one will buy it. You know why?”
“Why?” Ally asked. The writing, perhaps? “Is it too long?”
“Well, it is supposed to be ninety-eight pages.”
“It's three hundred. But that's not why. It's because it stars girlsânot bending over. No bare butts. No tits or tonguesâhanging out. And no one in Hollywood gives a shit. Because the girls wear
Long skirts. High necks.”
“That's too bad.”
“I didn't get it in class back then. But now I'm in SAG, this union, you know, and these girlsâAlly, they started it allâworkers' rights, so I thought maybe if you talked to Martyâ”
“He'll be at a party on Wednesday night. I have to go. They make you go. My PR people. I get money from the booze guys, butâMarty will be there. And who knows more about women than you? Convince him to make it, Ally, please? For us?”
She studied him. “Me?” she said. What was he saying? “You want me to convince some guy to makeÂ .Â .Â .” He looked so intense, so heartfelt, so drunk.
“Shit,” he said then. He bowed his head and drew still. “Oh, man.” He looked left and right.
“What's wrong? What is it?”
He turned around and opened the door. He flew out into the pouring rain, down the stoop, and vomited on the sidewalk below.
Stepping out behind him, Ally cringed.
Down on the sidewalk, he vomited again. “Shit,” he cried softly, then vomited again for a third time.
Ally went down the stoop to help. She stood for some seconds in the pouring rain and placed her fingertips on his back. Jake crouched over, waiting, waiting.
“What did you drink?”
He didn't answer. “That's it. I'm done,” he finally said. “There's nothing left.” He spit and straightened up. “That was your awesome chocolate cake. Chicken, pasta. Sorry.”
She tried not to smile. He was even charming when he threw up. “You want some water?”
Jake nodded and gazed at her breasts. He could see them in the streetlight. He lifted his head and smiled. “Good to see you.”
Ally looked down and realized her tank top was rain soaked and see-through. She covered her chest. “Come back inside.”
They walked up the stoop and into the house.
After he had rinsed and spit, after Ally pulled a sweatshirt on, he followed her up to the second-floor bedroom they used as a den.
“I'm sorry,” he said. “I feel likeÂ .Â .Â . I mightÂ .Â .Â . pass out.”
“It's fine. Sleep it off.”
“I'm sorry I let you make me go. I was, I wasÂ .Â .Â . weaker then.”
Ally said nothing. She wasn't sure she heard him correctly. She pointed to the couch. “Sleep there,” she said.
Jake said nothing and sat on the couch, his head bowed low.
“Not in wet clothes. You're getting theâ”
“Sorry,” he said and straightened up, his head still bowed. He peeled off his T-shirt and dropped it to the floor. He stood up and pulled his jeans zipper down.
“I'll dry your stuff.” She picked up his shirt and tried, tried, her best to focus on his clothes, on the floor, on anything but his bare wet skin.
He pulled down his jeans and took his briefs with them. “Oops, sorry.”
Ally turned and tried not to laugh. There was that penis! “Stay in your underwear. Dry. It's dry.”
He pulled up his briefs, collapsed on the couch, and closed his eyes. She turned and picked up his jeans from the floor.
“They all want NoahÂ .Â .Â . and no one wants JakeÂ .Â .Â . ,” Jake murmured, closing his eyes.
Ally grabbed a blanket from the back of the couch and gently placed it over his body. Jake drew still and passed out, asleep.
She stood there and studied him for a moment: The cut of his cheeks. The curve of his lips. The line of his jaw. His thick lashes.
He still made her breathless. She could stare at that face forever, she thought.
Mrs. Robinson. That's who she was. What a drag.
She sighed like a schoolgirl, left to make coffee, and stayed awake for the rest of the night.
Down in the kitchen, she opened her laptop and Googled Jake as Noah Bean.
There he was. Everywhere. As Lizzie said. Hundreds of articles, hundreds of photos: On the red carpet. Walking down the street. In three-piece suits, boxers, tuxedos, T-shirts.
movie posters. Smiling, smirking, laughing, posing.
How had she missed him? Lizzie was right. She was a Luddite.
Ten minutes later, feeling naughty, a little bit shady, she stopped her search. What if he woke up and walked in on her? This type of thing was Lizzie's realm.
Or it had been. It was Lizzie who, by sixth grade, had traded in her Nancy Drew for Lee Child and Vince Flynn and spent her evenings somewhere on the web, chatting in a language unknown to Ally: arguing over the ethics of spam blocks, certain black hats, trolls, doxing, heisenbugsÂ .Â .Â .
Ally had discovered an odd-looking mask, a Guy Fawkes mask, hanging in Lizzie's room, on her bedpost. In lipstick on the mirror, she'd scrawled the words “ANONS RULE.”
“What's an anon?” Ally asked at dinner one night.
Lizzie looked up from her salad and beans. “An anon,” she said, “is a member of an anarchist group. A part of a global activist brain.”
Ally paused. “I don'tâknow what that means. Is it a club? An online club?”
“Think of it that way, sure,” Lizzie said, forking her lettuce leaves one by one.
I think of it?” Ally squinted the way she did when she knew that Lizzie was lying by omission.
“It's nerdy kids who play pranks. But only on people who deserve it, okay?”
Ally studied her thirteen-year-old and her zit-dappled chin. She didn't like pranks.
In January, five years later, Lizzie had called her mother in tears. She needed to get out of Durham for a spell. She needed to be home. A friend of hers had hung himselfÂ .Â .Â . there in Brooklyn, and Lizzie was crushed.
Ally discovered the brilliant young man was a hacker, too. He had accessed some online files from MIT and faced time in jail, thirty-five years, and a million-dollar fineÂ .Â .Â .
Lizzie had loved him. He was her hero.
She then abandoned her online life and turned her attention to drama instead, auditioning for plays at Duke that spring.
She didn't get parts in
Bat Boy: The Musical
, but she sewed costumes and painted sets, and that summer, she came home transformed: no more nights staying up late, staring into the glow of the Dell. Instead, she went to bed by eleven and woke up at six to run ten miles. She put the Guy Fawkes mask away.
Ally didn't know how to feel. About the change. If she was truly relieved or not.
Hollywood? Acting? After she'd majored in foreign relations? After she'd wanted to secure the free world?
When Jake awoke, he found his T-shirt and jeans dry and warm, folded on the table next to the couch. He found Ally down in the kitchen, apologized, and thanked her. They strolled from the kitchen toward the front door.
“No nose job,” Ally said. “She cannot get this nose job.” Now that she had him alone and sober. “She needs a manâan older manânot youâand not Tedâto tell her she's beautiful as she is. ThisâMartyâyou want me to meet. He could do it. She talks about him. Is he a big deal? Could he influence her?”
“Yeah, he could,” Jake said, nodding.
“It's the dad thing. She's insecure. On some level.”
“So come to the party and I'll get Marty to talk to Lizzie. About her nose. Deal?”
“Deal.” She unlocked the door. “Can I bring Ted?”
“Wait,” Ally complained. “He's an investor. Maybeâ”
“Because. I'm taking you out.”
Ally took a breath and lifted her head around in a circle. “Jake! You're dating my daughter!”
“What? I am not!”
“She thinks you are!”
“She doesn't even like me!”
“Yes! She does!”
“She thinks I'm a bore. Lizzie is
She needs someone funny, someone like, I don't know, James Franco.”
“No one. Never mind. Look. When I figured out who she was, that was it. I set up this dinner. I never touched her. She thinks I'm gay. She asked me yesterday if I'm gay. We are
“Either way, I have to tell her.”
“I don't care! Tell her! I'll tell her! You know what she'll do? She'll laugh. She's an amazingâamazingâgirl. I don't date girls.”
Ally considered this. “I don't know.”
“Let's make a bet. If she thinks it's funnyâwhich she willâyou come to the party. I leave New York on Friday night.”
“Fine,” Ally said. “We both tell her, and if she's okay, if she's not crushed, I'll come.”
“Good. And Marty will say he loves her nose. Marty loves it. I love it. We all love her nose.”
“But you can't take me out. I'mâinvolved.”
“Where's your ring?”
Her ring? “Ted comes.”
“Ted stays home. This time we're doing things
Ally grimaced. “You know I'm forty now, Jake? Forty-one?”
“Thanks for the sleep, the coffee, dinner. You ready?”
“For what?” Ally said begrudgingly. Jake slid on his cap, pulled the rim low, and slipped on his shades. He swung the door open. Ally gasped.
Out on the sidewalk, a crowd of paparazzi erupted. Flashes flashed. They all yelled at once. “Noah! Noah! Noah, over here!”
Ally stepped back and Jake closed the door. “I'll send a car Wednesday. Eleven o'clock.”
She was confused. “Eleven in the morning?”
He smiled. “No. Eleven at night. That's when the party starts,