David stood at the sink, a pine forest to his left, the Pacific Ocean to his right, and cursed the morning sun. It beat through the skylight and smashed into the mirror, making it all but impossible to shave without squinting. He had lived in Los Angeles long enough to lose track of the seasons, so it took glancing up at CNBC and seeing live images of people snowshoeing down Madison Avenue for it to register: it was the middle of winter. And he determined that all day, no matter how bad things got, at least he’d be grateful for the weather.
His pool shimmered. Stone Canyon Reservoir shimmered. The ocean shimmered. He cocked his head and flicked his wrist, skipping an imaginary stone from the pool to the reservoir. It split some Westwood high- rises, then landed in the Santa Monica Bay.
He wound up again—this time to clear Catalina—then stopped.
There was a furry . . . brown . . . thing floating in the Jacuzzi. “Honey!” He walked into the bedroom. “There’s something in the Jacuzzi.” He paused, waiting for the daylight in his eyes to fade.
His wife was in bed, her back to him, her hair seeping from under the pillow she’d taken to putting over her head at night. “Ma- ma, Ma- ma.” A squawk erupted from the baby monitor.
There was a cough, then a bleat.
But Violet didn’t move. What was her plan? Who did she think was going to get the baby? Was a standoff really so necessary that Violet would let Dot cry like this? Jesus Christ. David marched by the bed, skirting the rug so his bare heels struck the hardwood.
“Aggh.” Violet pulled the pillow off her head. And there they were, the reason he fell in love with her almost twenty years ago in front of the Murray Hill Cinema: the violets tattooed behind her ear.
David’s dog walker, a friend of Violet’s from Barnard, had set them up. David managed two bands at the time — big ones, but still, only two. He’d been told Violet worked for a legendary theater producer and was the daughter of some obscure intellectual he’d never heard of. The plan was to meet half an hour before Full Metal Jacket. David arrived on time, but the movie had already sold out. He spotted Violet — she had said she’d be the one wearing red plastic sandals — sitting on the sidewalk in the ticket holders’ line, engrossed in the New York Times, and listening to a Walkman. Two movie tickets were tucked under her leg. She wasn’t a knockout, but wasn’t fat either, and had a face you wanted to look into. She turned the page of the business section and folded it, then folded it again. An artsy chick who read the business section? Who was responsible enough to have arrived early and bought tickets?
With enough Ivy League pluck to sit on a dirty sidewalk and not care who saw her? It was done and done. He had to have her. As he stepped forward, she absentmindedly twisted her long hair off her neck. That’s when he first glimpsed the tattoo behind her ear, teasing him from the edge of her hairline. He found it wildly sexy.
But something inside him sank. He knew then there’d be a part of her he’d never possess.
“I’ll get her, I’ll get her, I’ll get her.” Violet threw off the covers and trudged to Dot’s room without looking up. The violets. Those fucking violets.
DAVID headed to the kitchen, comforted by the sounds of the morning: babbling Dot, the hiss of brewing coffee, the crunch of Rice Krispies underfoot. These days, there were two kinds of Rice Krispies, those waiting to be stepped on and those that already had been.
Pffft. He landed on some Krispy dust. “Dada!” Dot shouted. She sat with perfect posture at her miniature wooden table, covered head to toe in croissant flakes, a darling, crusty monster.
“Aww, good morning!” David said, stepping on some Krispy virgins. “That’s what I like to see, my girls!” A carafe of coffee and his newspaper awaited. “Honey,” he said to Violet, “there’s something floating in the Jacuzzi.”
Violet opened the fridge. “What?”
He walked to the window. “It looks like a dead gopher.”
“Then it’s probably a dead gopher.” She rooted around in the fridge. “Ah! There it is.” She tore white butcher paper from a hunk of cheese. At least she still did that for him, got him the good cheese.
“How long has it been there?” David asked.
“Mama, what’s dat?” said Dot.
“It’s cheese, sweetie.” Violet sliced some off.
“I’ll get you some. First, I’m making Dada his breakfast.”
“How long has the gopher been there?” David repeated.
“I don’t know. This is the first I’ve heard of it.” Violet placed David’s breakfast on the counter: wheat toast, sheep’ s- milk cheese, sliced apples sprinkled with lemon juice and freshly grated nutmeg.
“Are we good?”
“You didn’t notice it when you looked out the window this morning?”
“Apparently not,” Violet said. “Oh! Your milk.” She removed a small pitcher from the microwave, set it next to the coffee, and surveyed David’s domain. “Okay, that’s everything.”
“It doesn’t upset you that there’s a dead animal in our Jacuzzi?”
“I guess it does, a little. For the gopher.”
“What gopher?” asked Dot.
“That water could have dysentery in it.” David sat down. “What if Marta took Dot in there to swim?” To underscore the seriousness of his point, he had called their nanny by her real name, Marta, not their nickname for her, LadyGo.
“Mama! Want cheese,” said Dot.
“I’m getting you some.” Violet walked a piece of cheese over to Dot, then sat down on a tiny stool beside her and looked up at David. “Marcelino is coming today. I’ll have him fish out the gopher, drain the Jacuzzi, and disinfect it.” There was no discernible edge to her voice. This was one of Violet’s most bedeviling tactics, acting as if she was being completely reasonable and it was David who was hell- bent on ruining a perfectly fine morning.
“Thank you,” he said. “Look, I’m sorry. Today’s big. KROQ is debuting the Hanging with Yoko single at nine. I’ve got tickets going on sale at the Troubadour at ten — Shit.”
“Yesterday was my sister’s birthday,” he said to Violet. “I totally spaced it. That must have been why she kept calling the office.”
“I’ll get her something and have it messengered over,” Violet said. “I’ll make sure it’s expensive enough so she can’t complain.”
“Really? Thanks.” David was heartened. This was the Violet he loved, the Violet who took care of business. He jiggled the mouse on his laptop and clicked open his brokerage account. Up from yesterday, and the Dow was down eighty points. The hard part wasn’t making the money, it was keeping the money. And he had his gold stocks, his little fighters, to thank for that. He opened the chart for Nightingale Mining and sang its theme song. (After all, what would a stock be without its own theme song?) For Nightingale Mining — symbol XNI — he sang Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” “ X- N- I. X- N- I. Take my hand. Off to never-never land.”
Plunk. Something landed on the newspaper. David ignored it and clicked the chart for Wheaton River Minerals. “Now, that’s what you want a chart to look like.” To the tune of “Whiskey River,” David sang, “Wheaton River, take my mind. Don’t let memories torture me. Wheaton River, don’t run dry. You’re all I got, take care of me.”
“Good morning, Meester David.” It was LadyGo, sliding open the back door. She carried clippers and a canvas gardening bag.
“Good morning,” he said, then resumed singing. “I’m drowning in a Wheaton River —”
Plunk. David looked over. The Los Angeles Times was covered in something sticky.
“Violet? What is this?”
“What is what?” She was lost in thought, staring at the floor.
“What’s all over the newspaper?”
Violet blinked, then got up. She stuck her finger in the goo, smelled it, then raised it to her mouth.
“Don’t eat it —”
Too late. “It’s honey,” she said. “That’s weird. I didn’t put any honey out.” She looked up. “There must be a beehive in the crawlspace.” There was, in fact, a dark stain between two cedar ceiling
“What do you mean, There must be a beehive in the crawlspace?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“You act like that’s something that always happens.”
“Want honey,” said Dot.
“No, sweetie,” Violet said. “This honey is not for you.” She turned to David. “Perhaps because it’s been so unseasonably hot, the honey melted and dripped through the ceiling.” She shrugged and returned to the little stool. “But I don’t know anything.”
The only reason Violet dared say something so self- pitying and provocative was that she knew David wouldn’t get into it in front of LadyGo. LadyGo, the human shield! David glared at Violet, but she wouldn’t look at him.
“Meesuz, look,” the nanny said to Violet, a glint in her eye. “The animals. They eat all the vegetables.” LadyGo held out a handful of sugar snap peas. Each pod had tiny holes bored in it.
“I ask Javier. LadyGo, What animal is it? LadyGo, I spray next time.”
“No,” said Violet. “I don’t want Javier spraying the vegetables.”
“What animals?” asked Dot.
“Maybe las ratas. All the carrots? No mas.”
“That’s probably gophers,” Violet mused. “Oh well. I’ll just have to get carrots and peas at the farmers’ market tomorrow.” She got up. “Okay, I’m going to take a shower.”
David stared at the floor, took a long breath, and clenched his jaw. What the fuck was going on around here? Was this his house or a goddamned wild- animal sanctuary?
“I’ll call the gopher guy and the bee guy at nine,” Violet said.
“There’s nothing I can do but deal with it, right?”
“Those are your vegetables. You planted them from seeds. They’re ruined. Why doesn’t that upset you? I don’t understand you sometimes.”
“I’ll try to be more upset, then.”
“What kind of a thing is that to say?”
“David,” Violet said. “Please, I can’t.”
“Where las ratas?” squeaked Dot.
“You can’t what?” David asked.
“I can’t,” Violet said. “I can’t . . . nothing.”
“You can’t nothing! Great. Thanks for the fucking insight.”
“Why Dada sad?” asked Dot.
“Dada’s happy,” Violet said quickly.
David got up. At the sound of the stool skidding, Violet flinched.
LadyGo swooped up Dot and carried her away. For fuck’s sake.
A drop of honey landed on David’s shoulder. He pinched it off and grabbed his car keys. “I’m going to fucking Starbucks.”
SALLY awoke to the rising sound of the “babbling brook” feature on her alarm clock, which, like “bamboo waterfall” and “ocean waves,” just sounded like an airplane flying overhead. She hit the snooze button and braced herself. It wasn’t yesterday, her birthday, that had worried her. That was filled with phone calls, funny cards, a cake at work, and margaritas at El Coyote. It was today she feared, the day after: when everyone’s attention drifted elsewhere and she woke up in her same one- bedroom apartment on a noisy street, one year older. She took a breath, then another, then smiled. Thirty- six she could manage.
Moving on to today. Sally was teaching back- to- back ballet until Maryam picked her up for the party where Sally would finally be introduced to Jeremy White. Her husband to be. Since today was so jam- packed, Sally had done her bring- a- new- guy- home sweep of the apartment last night. She went over the list in her head one last time.
Waste baskets: empty
Box of tampons: off the toilet
Dishes: washed and put away
Medicine: tucked away in the fridge
Credit card bills: in the back of the desk drawer
Sally sprang up. The gossip magazines she had plucked from the studio’s recycling basket were still visible on the coffee table.
She didn’t want Jeremy White to think she was shallow, so she’d bought a New Yorker to place on top of them. She got out of bed, then tripped on something.
A wisteria vine from the balcony had crept under the door, across the carpet, and under Sally’s bed. She had noticed it last night when she was vacuuming. Thinking it a carefree touch — a thing Holly Golightly might have let grow wild in her first apartment — Sally had vacuumed around it. Now something terrible occurred to her.
As of eleven o’clock last night, she’d been able to pick up the whole branch; this morning it was stuck to something. She dropped to her hands and knees and traced the vine under the Laura Ashley dust ruffle. A lime green tendril was coiled around the leg of her bed.
That meant the vine had snaked around it while she was sleeping.
Sally shuddered. She yanked the wisteria, but that only tightened its grip on the metal rod. She clawed off the wet young growth with her fingernails, then threw open the door and hurled the awful branch off the balcony. But the door wouldn’t close. The stupid knob had been painted over too many times. She kicked the wood frame until the lock clicked. Her hands trembled as she checked to make sure her manicure wasn’t wrecked.
The tap, tap, tapping of tangled backstage passes hanging from the doorknob slowed until there was silence. Def Leppard, the Rolling Stones, Commonhouse, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. All bands managed by David at some point. All more important than his little sister’s birthday.
The babbling brook started up again. The New Yorker. She couldn’t forget The New Yorker.
TUESDAYS in Los Angeles made Violet sad. It always caught her by surprise, the sadness, like today, as she was driving, safe and alone in her car after another revolting morning with David.
Then she’d see the open- house signs and would remember: Tuesday, open house day. She stopped at the light at Beverly Glen and watched Gwen Gold struggle to haul a sign from her white Lexus SUV and place it strategically to block the other signs. (Who cared if a dozen cars saw her, she had a house to sell, baby!) Gwen stuck several eye catching GWEN GOLD flags in the hard earth, careful not to muss her Chanel knockoff pantsuit. She wore a grimace, and unlaced hiking boots over her hose, saving her smiles and good heels for later, when she’d be all poise as she presented the peekaboo city views and granite countertops, trying to concentrate on the client and not the math in her head — listed at 1.65, half of 3 percent of 1.5 is 30,000, if I can get five of these a year, that’s 150 before taxes, I could pay off the face- lift and put ten down on a condo. That’s good, that’s enough. . . .
Violet knew the type, and they made her sad. Those divorcées who had staked it all on being the perfect wife and mother. Nothing evil in that, nothing that everyone else wasn’t doing, nothing to be punished for. But something had gone awry, and now these women were single, fifty, and forced to earn a living without any discernible skills. So they became realtors. How had Gwen played her cards wrong? Had she let herself go after giving birth to four boys? Had that driven her husband into the arms of his hard-bodied young secretary? Had the pressures of a disabled child been too much for even a solid marriage? Or had Gwen had the affair? A desperately needed fling with a young green- eyed man who worked at J. Crew? And her husband, Stan — Violet thought Gwen would be married to a Stan — Stan had caught them and
thrown Gwen out, just when her preppy lover got scared away by her need. Whatever Gwen had done, she didn’t deserve the indignity of this; of that Violet was certain.
The light turned green. Just past Deep Canyon, a woman wearing a puffy straw hat and a billowy white linen dress painted a picture of the valley, taking advantage of this especially crisp day. Violet caught a glimpse of the oil as she drove past. It wasn’t very good. It would never sell.
How sad for this woman, who obviously imagined herself on Nantucket the way she was dressed, not choking on fumes overlooking Sherman Oaks. Would she try to get into a group art show with her series of unremarkable landscapes?
Would a friend buy a few to make her feel good? Violet had an impulse to turn around and buy the painting on the spot, but she’d never make the U- turn. The traffic on Mulholland had gotten so relentless. She always felt as though someone was about to ram into her while she snaked along the only street in LA she had ever lived, the spine of the city.
Floating past the gatehouse guarding the swollen mansions of Beverly Park, Violet remembered words spoken by her father at this same spot, decades before the mansions. “When you get older,” he had said, “you will learn there are two kinds of people. Those who grew up listening to Sondheim on Mulholland, and those who didn’t.” Years later, he’d lose control of the convertible
Jaguar on another part of Mulholland and sail to his death.
A drunk- driving accident? A final attempt to make a splash — any splash would do — after never fulfilling the promise of his youth? It was unclear. Violet had hardly spoken to him toward the end.
She flowed with traffic down Coldwater Canyon. A cement truck was backing out of a driveway up ahead. Violet stopped for it, making the driver tailgating her slam on his brakes and hit his horn for a good ten seconds. But he didn’t know Violet had nowhere to go. A little shopping. Sally’s present. A movie by herself, perhaps. The New York Times at a sushi bar. Dot needed socks.
At the weird, long park along Santa Monica Boulevard, some workers had just raised a banner that read BEVERLY HILLS HEALTH FAIR. A dozen card tables anchored bunches of colorful balloons.
But there were no people! How sad for the organizers, who had no doubt spent months planning this event. Violet wanted to reassure them that the crowds would come, just wait until lunchtime.
A band was setting up on the grass. A brown- skinned man wearing a black suit sound- checked his upright bass. Poor dear. He probably had no idea how hot it was expected to be when he got dressed this February morning. David had always accused Violet of feeling sorry for the wrong people. She could cry at the mere thought of Buzz Aldrin’s having to endure a lifetime of being known as merely the second man on the moon. “Ultra,” David would say — it was the nickname he gave her on their first date, as in Ultra Violet — “you really don’t need to feel sorry for Buzz Aldrin.” But once Violet saw the inherent sadness in one thing, she couldn’t stop.
That is why, when she walked into the French chocolate shop on Little Santa Monica, the tiny one that was always empty, the one that sold the gorgeous, bitter truffles, she couldn’t help it. She felt unbearably sad. The heaviness filled Violet’s stomach, then her chest. She grabbed a small wooden crate of truffles and placed it on the counter. At thirty- five dollars, no wonder there were no customers! The saleslady, her hair pulled severely back and tied with a silk scarf, looked up from her Sudoku book. Her sevens and ones were unmistakably French. This made Violet even sadder. She grabbed two giant crates and placed them on the counter. Perhaps this act of charity would stanch the sadness rising in her chest and prevent it from spilling out her eyes.
“Bonjour, madame,” Violet managed to say.
“Bonjour, madame,” answered the woman in that curt way of the French.
A pregnant woman announced her entrance with a singsong “Hi!” Violet could tell she was eager to talk about her pregnancy, and obliged. “Is it your first?” she asked.
“Yes.” The woman touched her stomach. “Cody. A boy.”
This poor woman. She had no idea how hard it was going to be, even if she loved her baby as much as Violet did Dot. And how Violet did love Dot, was possessed by her. Not a night went by without Violet uttering her name, Dot, just before slipping off. Even if Cody was this woman’s blood and heart and every thought, did she know that love wouldn’t be enough? Love wouldn’t make being a mother any less boring or draining or bewildering. Love wouldn’t prevent her from, some mornings, standing at the bottom of the driveway, like Popeye, a wailing Swee’Pea dangling from stiff arms, waiting for the arrival of the nanny.
For too many years, Violet had identified with the comic- book lady on that eighties T- shirt — the one everyone thought was a Lichtenstein but wasn’t — who realizes, to her horror, OH NO, I FORGOT TO HAVE CHILDREN! But these first years of motherhood made Violet think there should be a follow- up T- shirt. On it, the same woman is finally cradling her prized baby. But she’s still stricken, and her thought bubble now reads IT’S ALL ADDING UP TO NOTHING! There was no reward, no thank- you, no sense of accomplishment, no sustaining happiness. Often, Violet would find herself standing in a room, having no idea what she had gone in to do. It reminded her of the great Stephen Sondheim line . . .
Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor
Not going left. Not going right.
Then she’d realize that Dot was back in the other room. And Violet’s only purpose in leaving had been to get out of the same room as her baby. It was truly astonishing that something as unremarkable as having a kid would be the thing that had finally felled Violet Grace Parry.
“Congratulations,” Violet told the expectant mother.
“Et voilà.” The saleswoman handed Violet a sales slip.
There was a sticker on the French lady’s black cardigan. It was of a bear with a Band- Aid on its arm. I GAVE BLOOD, it read. That did it. Violet was about to start crying. She signed the sales slip without really looking at the amount. It began with a three.
SALLY was sitting on the edge of the tub inspecting her feet when the phone rang. It was her best friend. “Hi, Maryam, I don’t have much time.” Her toes looked good, no cuts, no blisters.
“I just want to give you directions to the party,” said her friend.
“I thought you were going to pick me up.” Sally admired her naked body in the mirror. How many thirty- six- year- olds could say there was nothing they’d want to change about their body? Heart- shaped ass, delts to die for, not a whisper of ab flab.
“But the party’s in Marina del Rey,” Maryam started in. “And I am, too, so it doesn’t make sense for me to drive all the way to West Hollywood at rush hour to pick you up, then have to drive you back after the party.”
Sally knew all this. But she needed Maryam to drive. That way, after Sally captivated Jeremy White at the party, she could tell him that Maryam had left without her, then innocently ask him for a ride home. She’d invite him up, tease him with the best kiss of his life, and abruptly send him on his way. Always leave them wanting more.
“Then I just won’t go,” Sally said.
“You can’t not go!” Maryam cried. “Jeremy never goes to parties. The only reason he’s coming tonight is to meet you. And my boss invited a bunch of people to impress them. If Jeremy shows up and you’re not there, he’ll turn around and go home, then I’ll look like an idiot.”
“You know I hate going to parties alone —” Sally practically dropped the phone: there was a red bump on her bikini line.
Please, she prayed, not an ingrown hair. She took a closer look. It was. Fudge. If she didn’t get the hair out, it would get all gross and infected.
“I would pick you up,” Maryam said, “but I’m on location in the desert and I need to shower and change when I get home.”
“Unlike you, I’d never make my best friend do something she’s not comfortable with, so I just won’t go.” Sally squeezed the bump.
Nothing came out. She pinched it between her fingernails. Blood collected under the purplish crescent indentations. What a freaking disaster! “Have a nice day,” she said. “Good- bye.”
“No, Sally —”
Sally hung up. Ice might keep it from getting infected. She went to the kitchen and popped an ice cube out of the tray, then placed it on the splotch.
When Sally moved into this delightful one- bedroom on Crescent Heights Boulevard, she had discovered a bunch of baskets that the previous tenant had left behind in a closet. Full of confidence and whimsy, she hung the baskets from her new kitchen ceiling. But the whole Shabby Chic craze came and went; still, there were the baskets. Except for the two or three she had to throw away because they got infested with those horrible moths that got into her cereal, too. She’d arrived in LA feeling so full of promise. Her career as a dancer hadn’t worked out, but that was okay. She invented a ballet inspired workout, named it Core- de- Ballet, and within a month was teaching classes. All without any help from David.
David. She couldn’t believe he forgot her birthday yesterday. She had called to remind him, for his sake. Three times. A snooty secretary answered. “May I tell Mr. Parry your last name?” she asked. “It’s the same as his,” Sally said. “I’m his sister.” David still didn’t take her call! When she had returned home from her birthday dinner, there was a message on her machine. “I have David Parry returning,” said the witch. David always used to remember Sally’s birthday. But now he was too busy up there in his zillion dollar house with that baby of his, who’d won the lottery of the universe just by being born. And Violet, always throwing dinner parties for rock stars, most of them single, and not inviting Sally. Sally knew David way before Violet did, and now Violet acted like she owned him.
Sally’s phone rang. “Hello?” It would have been cruel to answer, Hello, Maryam.
“I’ll pick you up at six,” said her defeated friend.
“Oh, Maryam!” Sally gushed. “You’re the best!”
“But I’m going to be wearing hiking boots, and my hair will be caked with dust. Just so you know, my cat will probably pee on my pillow again to punish me for not coming home to feed her —” Sally jumped in before the subject of the cat could take hold.
“Thanks sooo much,” she said. Sally loved Maryam but wished she’d change her name to something less Persian. Maryam practically begged to be Marianne. She was, after all, born in LA and completely American. Sally had brought it up several times, but Maryam got all touchy because her name meant “ sweet- smelling flower” or something. Sally wouldn’t have been so hung up on it if it weren’t for Maryam’s surliness and disregard for her personal appearance. She had a nice face and a good body. A little makeup and better clothes could kick her up to a whole other level. Sally herself didn’t care one way or the other. She was only thinking of Maryam. As the pretty friend, Sally felt it her obligation. She checked the ingrown hair. The ice seemed to be working.
VIOLET walked as fast as she could down Little Santa Monica. If she ran, she’d feel her ass jiggle, and that in itself might let loose the tears. She turned down Beverly Drive, then stopped. She was parked back on Camden. But she couldn’t just turn around. Someone she knew might see her fl ailing. Her heart was full- blown in her chest, fluttering, double and triple beating. The tingling bled down her inner arms to her hands, then got trapped in her fingertips, which felt as if they might burst. The heat prickled in her jaw and rose up her cheeks. Oh God, she had to get off the street.
The Museum of Television and Radio was right there. Violet flung open the heavy glass door and entered the hushed travertine lobby. An elderly docent didn’t look up from her knitting. Violet remembered her from a few years back. It was when Mann About Town was being inducted. During the screening of an episode — it was one Violet had written — she had stepped out to read the paper but ended up stuck in a conversation with the excitable docent, who recounted all the famous TV people she’d met. Violet acted impressed, but TV never really interested her. She had always considered her destiny to be more noble, like writing plays or teaching English. But a one- act she had written in college had gotten noticed by a TV writer who quickly hired her.
She and David hadn’t even been dating a year, but he could manage bands from LA just the same as from New York, so he was happy to relocate. One thing led to another, and there she had found herself, almost twenty years later, being honored at a museum for crap. But today, even the most innocuous conversation with this docent might cause Violet to collapse, or scream, or die, even. She nestled her face in her shoulder and made a break for the bathroom.
The antechamber was softly lit, with beige walls and comfy carpet. Violet crumpled onto a tufted Knoll bench and allowed the tears to flow. Why don’t you get the baby — you’re already awake! I was up all night because of your snoring. If you’re so upset about the gopher, get it out of the Jacuzzi yourself! I’m making breakfast for you and Dot. Why don’t you figure out what the sticky stuff is in the ceiling? The gophers and rats already ate the damn vegetables — bitching about it isn’t going to bring them back. You’re not the only one living in this house. Have some consideration before you ruin everybody’s morning. See! It’s not just me. Dot and LadyGo are scared of you, too! These were all things Violet would never actually say to David. It was easier to nod.
Violet wiped her nose on her sleeve. There was some pink Play-Doh on the lapel of her corduroy jacket. She scraped it off with her front teeth; the salt tasted good. A crack of light on the carpet widened into a wedge. A silhouette stepped into it. Violet raised her eyes. A man stood in the door that led to the bathroom proper. Behind him were urinals.
“Oh God,” she said. “I’m in the men’s room.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“No, it’s my fault. I didn’t look.”
The man wore black, had brown skin and moppish black hair.
“Hey,” she said. “You’re the one playing bass at the health fair.”
“Are they looking for me?” Fear danced in his eyes. “They said we were on a fifteen- minute break.”
“No, I noticed you when I drove by, that’s all.” It was rather dear, how worried he was. Violet figured he didn’t frequent Beverly Hills and might be intimidated. She felt an odd responsibility to put him at ease. “Are you having fun?” she asked.
“What are you, the ambassador of Beverly Hills?”
“No,” she said with a laugh, startled by his acuity, or her transparency, she didn’t know which.
“Since you asked,” he said, “my answer is no. The Jew bandleader won’t give me gas money. It’s my fault because I wrote it down wrong. And I show up and see it’s a fucking blood drive so there’s no tip jar. Not to mention the shit going on with my car, which probably won’t start. So here I am, a one- man charity event for a bunch of Beverly Hills receptionists raking in sixty G’s a year.”
“Jew bandleader,huh?” Violet couldn’t tell if he was Jewish himself or some other kind of ethnicity.
“What,” he said. “Are you Jewish?”
“No, but I could be.”
“Come on, I was just saying that. You seemed cool.”
“I am cool.”
“Anyway, he’s a nigger. I just called him a Jew because he’s so cheap.”
“My God,” she said. “Did you miss the memo? These aren’t words people use anymore. Who raised you?”
“Wolves.” He sat down beside her. He had bloodshot eyes and lint in his hair. It was hard to tell if it was full of gel or in need of a shampoo. His clothes smelled like a Goodwill. “Really, though,”
he said. “Are you okay? I’m a good listener.”
“Nigger, please. What kind of future can we expect when you lie to me like that?”
“Future?” She felt mortified by how besotted she sounded and lowered her voice a register.
“I mean it. I have a car that starts. That’s something to be grateful for, right?”
“Amen to that.” His pants were shiny and polyester. Neat rows of staples held up the hems. On his feet were stiff black- and- white shoes. He must have bought golf shoes without knowing it, probably at a thrift store. “My tires are the thickness of rolling paper, and when I turn on the engine, there’s a weird chugging. I think the axle is bent, because it pulls to the left. The whole thing’s about to die, I can feel it.”
Violet’s tunic was twisted so it exposed the elastic panel of her pants. She quickly yanked down her shirt. Jesus, Dot was almost two and Violet was still wearing maternity jeans. Last night, during the Clippers- Nuggets game, a horrifying fact had flashed on the screen: Allen Iverson weighed 165 pounds. In other words, Violet was one pound heavier than the NBA’s star point guard. She was completely disgusting.
“And if my car dies,” he continued, “I’m dead. I have no cash to fix it. I’d have to leave it on the street. No more gigs, because I can’t haul my upright around on a fucking bus. Then I’d lose my apartment, so I might as well be back in Palm Springs.” He ran his fingers forcefully through his hair. “Okay,” he said, talking himself down, “I have to stop thinking like that. I’ve got to have faith that God will take care of me.”
“Aren’t we full of contradictions?” Violet said. “Talking about God now.”
He gnawed at a cuticle.
“Stop biting your nails.”
“I know, thanks.” He leaned back and turned so he could get a square look at her. “So. Are your problems worse than mine?”
“My problems.” Violet stared at the three hundred dollars’ worth of chocolate nestled between her four- hundred- dollar loafers.
“My problems are all problems I’m lucky to have. And I know it, so therein lies the rub.”
“You know what we say. If you’re alive, all problems are quality problems.”
“We say that, do we?”
“How about you and me trade? Your problems for my problems.”
“No, thanks,” she said.
“You didn’t even think about it!” he said. “You bitch!”
Violet laughed loudly.
“Wow, there’s a laugh,” he said. “Am I good or am I good?”
“You’re good.” Violet handed him the bag. “I can pay you for your services in chocolate.”
“I don’t eat chocolate.”
“It cost three hundred dollars.”
“Are you fucking high?” He rifled through the bag. “How do you blow three Benjamins on chocolate?”
“I got it for this salesman at Hermès. Ten years ago, I bought a hat at Hermès in Paris, which I absolutely cherished. But it blew off when I was flying in a small plane over the Pantanal. We were looking for tapirs. Anyway, I went to the Hermès here in Beverly Hills to replace it, but it had been discontinued. So ever since, the salesman, Daniel, calls me any time a similar hat comes in. Resulting in me not only buying hats that I never wear, but also feeling an insane obligation to get him this ridiculously overpriced chocolate that ironically only a salesman at Hermès would appreciate. And he’s not even French, but Australian, if you can believe it.”
“Okay,” said the bass player. “My price just went up for having the shit bored out of me.”
Violet gave him a shove. “Good-bye. We wouldn’t want you to be tardy for the light- headed secretaries.”
He laughed. One of his teeth was missing, not a front tooth, or the one over, but the one beside that. Still, it was a shock. Violet had never been this close to a grown person with a missing tooth.
He stood up and looked in the mirror. Violet expected a gasp when he beheld the state of his hair. Instead, he gave himself a churlish smile. Then, without warning, he dropped to one knee and took her hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you, milady.”
His skin was so rough. Violet turned her hand up so his rested in it. His nails were savaged, the cuticles stained black. “Do you garden?” she asked.
“Listen to you. Do I garden.”
There was a calm in his face, an invitation to linger. She lowered her eyes. His hand, scarred with worry. Hers, plump from herbal- infused creams. The only way people like them were meant to meet was across a counter. She wasn’t supposed to be alone with him in a lavishly appointed men’s room, a black American Express card in her wallet, a month’s rent worth of artisan truffles at her feet. If the chatty docent came upon them and caught the foul- mouthed bass player from Palm Springs holding Violet Parry’s hand, it would be within reason for her to call security.
Violet placed her other hand on top of his, cupping it as she would a cricket that had made its way inside the house and she had to return to the safety of the wild. The bass player looked up. She met his green eyes, daring him to do something. But he looked down. She quickly let go of his hand. “Blood,” she said.
“There, where you were biting your nails.” A poppy seed of blood rested on his cuticle. Violet went to wipe it off, but he jerked his hand away before she could touch it. Violet was momentarily confused, then it occurred to her: he must have just noticed her five- carat diamond ring.
“I’m married,” she said.
He rose to his feet. “Stay happy,” he said. “You twinkle when you’re happy.” A blast of sunlight blinded her, and the bass player was gone.
SALLY pulled up to the gate off Mandeville Canyon, early for her one o’clock, a private ballet class for three- year- old twins. She got out of her Toyota RAV4 — her “truck” as she liked to call it — with the CORE- DE- BALLET placard in the window and picked up the newspaper.
She had made sure to arrive early because Jeremy White’s column ran Tuesdays in the Los Angeles Times and she wanted to appear informed when she finally met him tonight. Sally scooched the paper out of its plastic so she’d be able to return it undetected. The parents were super- nice and would have let her read it if she had asked, but one of the things that made Sally so successful as a private instructor was knowing her boundaries.
She opened the sports section and found “Just the Stats” by Jeremy White. Jeremy’s column had started running last fall, and since then he’d predicted the winner of some amazing number of football games. So amazing, apparently, that Maryam, a producer for ESPN, was giving him a segment on their Sunday- morning show beginning next month. That’s why tonight was so important.
Sally had to get a ring on her finger before Jeremy became famous and started earning the big bucks. That’s how they never leave you. Because no matter what happens, they know you loved them for them and not for their money.
Her phone rang. She recognized the number as David’s office and wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of another unpleasant exchange with his secretary. “Hello.”
“Hey, Sal, it’s me!”
“Happy birthday. I’m sorry we didn’t connect yesterday.”
“That’s okay,” Sally said, unable to resist the surge of love her brother’s voice always triggered. “I know how super- busy you are.”
“Thirty- six,” he said. “That’s a big one.”
“Yeah, I went out with friends. How are you —”
“You’re good?” he asked. It was more of a statement than a question.
“Health’s good? Work’s good?”
“Yeah, fine. What are you up to?”
“Same old—Violet, Dot, my bands. Hey, I saw the Bolshoi is coming. I thought you’d like to go.”
“Wow, I’d love to. When is it?”
“April something,” he said. “I’ll be out of town, but I’ll get you tickets —”
Caw! Caw! A screech echoed through the breezy canyon. Sally covered her free ear.
“Well, sounds like you’re busy,” David said with a laugh.
“No, I’m not, it’s just —”
“Call if you need anything.”
Then — splat! And another splat. Out of nowhere, the hood of Sally’s truck was freckled with white. And in the tree overhead, parrots! A whole flock of them! “Aaaah!” Sally shut her phone and shielded her hair with the LA Times. Splat- splat. Splat- splat. Splat- splatsplat-splat. Wet bird poop machine- gunned the flimsy newsprint.
She jumped into her truck, turned on the engine, and drove into the clear. She opened the door and ditched the gross newspaper on the driveway. Always one to learn from her mistakes, Sally resolved to never again park under a tree without first looking for parrots.
OVER the past several hours, Violet had found many excuses to wander the streets of Beverly Hills, the jazz music beckoning her through the mash of traffic. At one point, she had stood across from the park and watched him. The song was “My Funny Valentine,” whose lyrics always broke Violet’s heart.
Your looks are laughable,
Yet you’re my fav’rite work of art.
The bass loomed over the bass player. His stance was wide, aggressive, and his arms snaked around the instrument’s neck as if trying to wrestle it to its death. But the bass was surely older than the musician who slapped it. It would survive long after he was dust. Between songs, the wizened black drummer said something to the bassist, who in turn laughed. His same laugh from the bathroom. Violet had felt jealousy, stacked with the preposterousness of such jealousy. She had shaken it off and headed to her car.
Yet here she was again, an hour later, pulled toward the park and the dismantled health fair. She didn’t realize it until her heart quickened. There he was, getting into a car across Santa Monica Boulevard. Violet hustled through traffic, then flat-out ran up the block to the fenderless Mazda hatchback.
“Fuck! Fuck!” He pounded the wheel with both hands.
Violet tapped on the window. Still looking down, he smiled, then cocked his head and met Violet’s eyes. He nodded, as if he’d been expecting her. She motioned for him to roll down the window.
He turned the crank with one hand and hooked his finger over the top of the glass. “Push down,” his muffled voice instructed Violet. She flattened both hands against the window and pushed. Their combined effort lowered it six inches. “Did I fucking predict this?” he said with a great big laugh. “My car won’t start.”
“Can I give you a ride home?” she asked. The passenger seat was fully reclined. On it rested the upright bass in a black bag. Violet imagined him tenderly laying the instrument on the tattered seat, and blushed.
“I need this fucking car,” he said. “I have a champagne brunch gig in Agoura Hills on Sunday, and the rest of the band lives in Ventura, so if someone comes to pick me up, I’ll have to give them gas money, and I’m only making fifty bucks for the gig.”
“Oh my God. It’s like every other word out of your mouth is gas money.”
“Excuse me if my biggest concern in life isn’t chocolate and hats.”
“I have a great mechanic,” she said. “I can have your car towed there. He’ll arrange for a rental and make sure your car is fixed in time for your gig.”
“Really?” he asked.
“That’s the way it’s going to happen?”
“That’s the way it’s going to happen,” Violet said, “because I’m going to pay for it.” She felt as though she had just hurled herself off a cliff. He looked away, unable to see she was falling, falling.
He started chewing his nails. “Stop that,” she said, eager to change the subject.
“Thanks.” He pulled his finger out of his mouth. “Why are you doing this?”
“Never mind. It was — it’s just my way of saying thank you. For cheering me up in the men’s room.”
“Don’t let your rich husband hear you say that.”
“Whatever it’s going to cost, it’s an insignificant amount of money.”
“Say that again.”
“Insignificant amount of money.”
Violet did. The bass player looked off and thought about it. “I might never be able to pay you back,” he said.
“Think of it as me miracling you.”
“It’s a Deadhead thing,” Violet said. “At Grateful Dead shows, there’d be all these nasty hippies walking around holding up one finger, saying, I need a miracle, which was meant to take the form of someone giving them a free ticket.”
“You’re a Deadhead?” he asked skeptically.
“I feel less guilty accepting your money knowing you have such shitty taste in music.”
“I’ll call our car service to pick you up,” she said. “The mechanic will take care of you.”
“Do you think one day I’ll ever say, Our car service?”
“Most likely no.”
“Man, as hippie chicks go, you have one hell of a mean streak.”
“The best ones always do.”
He got out of the car. His black shirt was wet and stuck to his back. Violet resisted the urge to peel it off.
“You do know how to get shit done,” he said. “Are you sure you’re not a cokehead, too?” He had changed into flimsy flip-flops. His feet were small and delicate, with black hairs sprouting from the tops of his toes.
Violet fumbled for her cell phone. “What’s your name?”
He pulled out a stiff leather wallet chained to his belt loop and removed a business card.
11838 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 555- 0199
Reyes. It meant “kings” in Spanish. That answered it; he must be Mexican. Violet pictured Venice Boulevard but could see only oil-change places, strip malls, and junk shops. She didn’t know people actually lived on Venice. The zip code — 90066 — meant nothing to her. Bordering the card were colorful dancing pharmaceutical pills. “What are you, some kind of pill freak?”
“I was,” he said. “Among other things. I’ve been clean almost three years.”
“So that’s the royal we? AA?”
“I’m Teddy and I’m an alcoholic.”
“I’m Violet,” she said. “And I’m . . . I’m happy to meet you.”
Teddy gave a big laugh. There it was, his laugh: her laugh. “Of course you’re a Violet,” he said. “Nice to meet you, too, Violet. I need a miracle.”
SALLY followed Maryam into her boss’s Marina del Rey condo. It was packed, loud and overlit with twenty- dollar halogen torch lamps you could get at any drugstore. Sally couldn’t believe that after all these years in LA, she was still stuck at the level of party where they served baby carrots and Trader Joe’s hummus. Since she had the best arms in the room, Sally took off her coat and pushed it into Maryam. “Could you put this somewhere?”
Maryam dutifully did as told and disappeared into the crowd.
“You must be Maryam’s friend,” a voice called, “the beautiful Sally.”
“And you must be our gracious host!” Sally handed the sweaty man two crates of chocolate. She couldn’t figure out why Violet had sent over seven pounds of chocolate for her birthday. (The card had read “Love, David and Violet,” but Sally knew Violet’s writing.) It was a thoughtless, bizarre choice. Sally was about to chuck the bag in the trash, but then saw the round orange box. In it was a gorgeous Hermès belt. She could forgive Violet the chocolate.
“May I get you a drink?” asked the host.
“No, thanks. I’ll just wander.” Sally scanned the crowd for Jeremy White. Not wanting to appear too eager, she had never pumped Maryam about Jeremy’s looks. All Maryam had said was
“He’s actually kind of cute.” Actually kind of cute. Sally wondered, Why the actually?
“Hey! Look who it is!” Maryam had reappeared and was spinning Sally around by her shoulders.
“Jeremy! This is my friend Sally.” Sally found herself, without ceremony, face- to- face with Jeremy White. He was pressed against a wall, a beer high to his chest.
He stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Sally.”
Sally shook it. Clammy. “Likewise,” she said.
“I can’t believe you came to a party,” Maryam said, and punched Jeremy in the shoulder.
“You told me I had no choice.” He shot a glance at Sally, but before she could engineer a seductive smile, he looked down.
The tension that had been building in Sally’s neck and shoulders all day swooshed down her spine and disappeared. Tonight would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. “I’m a big fan of your column,” she said. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“I have a secret system,” Jeremy said.
Sally pantomimed pointing a gun at him. “We have ways of making you talk.”
“I’m scared,” he replied to her left cheek. She worried a zit had sprung up.
Maryam laughed. “You guys are totally made for each other.”
Sally felt a flush of excitement that what she was thinking had just been spoken aloud. “Maryam, look! They have five- layer dip.” Sally gave her a little wave. “Your favorite.” Maryam glowered and walked off.
“It involves finding the value in a spread,” Jeremy was saying. “Even a half- point discrepancy — especially if it’s a valuable half point from three to three and a half — can be statistically significant.” It took Sally a second to realize he was still talking about his betting system.
For a geek. That’s what Maryam must have meant: he’s actually kind of cute for a geek. Jeremy had perfect posture. His chin was tucked in, as if to create an extra half- inch distance between himself and the world. He had pale skin and lots of sandy hair, with no signs of balding. He looked slender under a crumply button-down and wide-wale cords. It was a good start, something Sally could work with. “I think it’s so amazing you work at the LA Times,” she said.
“I work at home. I’ve only been to Spring Street once.”
“Even better! Working at home!”
“Gee. Everything makes you happy,” he said.
“I guess I’m just one of those types of people.”
“I’ve never heard of the type who is happy one hundred percent of the time.”
“That would require spending every day and night with you.”
A joyous “Aah —” was all that came out.
A dumpy, unattractive woman in sweatpants butted in. “Let me know when you’re ready to go,” she said to Jeremy.
Sally waited for an introduction, but there was none. “Hi, I’m Sally Parry,” she had to say.
“I’m Jeremy’s neighbor.” She had a big mole on her cheek.
“Jennifer drove me here,” Jeremy said. “I don’t drive.”
Jeremy didn’t drive here? What about Sally’s plan? If he didn’t drive her home, she couldn’t bring him upstairs. If she couldn’t bring him upstairs, she couldn’t tease him. If she couldn’t tease him, she couldn’t send him away, flummoxed and erect. This was a four alarm disaster! “That’s so fascinating!” Sally squealed. “I wish I had a neighbor to chauffeur me!”
“There you go again,” he said. “Happy about everything.”
“Whatever,” Jennifer said. “I’m ready when you are.”
“I’m having fun,” he said to Jennifer. “Do you mind staying?”
The neighbor girl looked Sally up and down. Sally stood her ground with confidence. Jennifer turned to Jeremy. “Let me know when you’re ready. I have to get up early.”
Sally had to think fast. Jeremy was totally flirting with her, but were just five minutes face-to-face enough for him to ask her out? This blind date had taken three whole months to maneuver. Sally had only six weeks before Jeremy became a TV star. She grabbed his hand. “Come with me.”
VIOLET found David in the bathroom, flossing his teeth in his boxers. At forty- six, his physique was as good as when Violet had first met him.
“Pick a number,” he said. Floss hung from either side of his mouth, like a brontosaurus. “From one to five.”
“Just pick one and I’ll tell you if you’re right.”
“I don’t know. . . .”
“One to five. It isn’t hard.”
Violet stiffened. She had an eighty percent chance of saying the wrong thing. “Two.”
“Five! That’s the number of nights we sold out at the Troubadour.
They played the single on KROQ. It was massive. By noon we sold out five nights.”
“No kidding!” Violet said. David was legendary when it came to breaking new bands, but with the music business imploding, all the old methods were being challenged. “You’re the greatest,
“You better believe it.”
Violet removed her hat from the Hermès bag and cut off the tag. Six hundred dollars. Daniel had seen it in the spring chapeaux catalogue and declared a “shopping emergency” — those words
were actually preprinted on a slip of paper. The hat was Fed-Exed from Paris to Beverly Hills for Violet’s perusal, “no obligation to buy, of course.” It wasn’t a great hat. But, trapped in a friendship with scented Daniel, Violet gave him the small crate of chocolates and bought it anyway.
“I met the sweetest guy today,” Violet said. “A bass player.”
All day Violet had been analyzing what had happened between her and Teddy. All day she had reached the same conclusion: nothing. Their meeting was purely accidental. She had made it clear she was married. She’d probably never see him again. But paying to have his car fixed was trickier to rationalize. Technically, it was David’s money. But he had just given a bunch to a charity for struggling musicians. And if he did happen across the mechanic’s bill — which he wouldn’t, as all the bills went straight to the accountant — Violet would say she’d helped a struggling musician.
Still, as Violet kept combing over the details of her strange encounter — Teddy’s soulful eyes, the way he kept repeating what she said as if she were the most mesmerizing person in the world, how safe she felt when he took her hand, how their banter made her twinkle, how she practically dared him to kiss her, the desperation she felt offering to fi x his car, and the insanity as she tried to play it down — her shame intensified. She kept having to remind herself that nothing illicit had happened. No self- exculpation was necessary. If it were, would she be telling her husband?
“He was playing at a health fair,” she added. “I helped him get his car fixed.”
“I’m going to get Tara McPherson to do some artwork for theTroubadour shows,” David said. He shot antiplaque rinse into his mouth and swished it around.
“That’s a great idea.” Violet stepped into the closet. She quickly changed into her pajamas while David was occupied with his teeth, to ensure he wouldn’t see her naked. “Oh,” she said, emerging from the closet, “I sent Sally a belt from Hermès. One of those orange ones with the H buckles. It’s a bit arriviste for me, but she likes that kind of thing.”
“I’ll get Tara to do some T-shirts for the guys at KROQ,” David said. “They did me a real solid playing that single.”
Violet felt a pang every time David ignored what she said. In a college psych book, she once read that conversations were like contracts between people. Everyone would prefer to talk all the time, but if they did, the person they were talking to would lose interest and end the conversation. Therefore, in order to keep talking, a person had to stop talking and listen to the other person. Then, and only then, could they continue talking themselves.
At the time, Violet had found it cynical. But after sixteen years of marriage, what she would give! She didn’t expect David to genuinely care about a person she’d helped, or a present she’d bought for his sister, but he could at least act as if he cared. One time, as an experiment, Violet had decided to only listen to what he said and never bring anything up about herself. After a couple of days, he grew depressed and became hostile toward her. Still, he had never asked a single question about her day or how she was. Violet had secured her proof that he was a selfish asshole, but she felt terrible to have been responsible for any strife. The whole thing taught her to every day volunteer something about herself. Even knowing it would be met with indifference.
Violet put on her new hat.
“Hey, look at you in that hat,” David said. “What a cutie you are.” He blew her a kiss in the mirror and headed off to bed.
JEREMY didn’t protest as Sally led him to the bedroom and shut the door. “Do you have to use the restroom?” he asked.
That’s what was so weird about the way he spoke, Sally realized.
His voice had no inflection. She was about to change that, and how. She took the beer out of his hand and set it on the dresser.
“Forgive me,” she said, “but there’s something I have to do.” She kissed him. He stood there with frozen eyes. She kissed him again.
This time he puckered back with a loud “Mmwwaa.”
Mmwwaa was the sound your grandmother made when she kissed you. Sally tickled his lips with her tongue, caught an opening between his teeth, and wedged them apart. She went in for a slow, sensual kiss.
His tongue flapped wildly in her mouth. “Mmwwaa.” He pulled his head back and wiped the saliva off his face. “What?” He was breathing heavily. “What do you have to do?”
“Make love.” Sally kissed him again and undid his top button.
“Here?” His voice cracked.
“That’s right.” She walked him to the foot of the bed and pushed him onto the mountain of purses and coats. She straddled him with straight legs to showcase her flexibility. He grabbed her ass. She gave him a few seconds to register the firmness of her glutes.
She slalomed her tongue up his cheek to his ear, then recoiled when she hit something synthetic. Weird, he had earplugs in.
“Take off your pants,” she whispered. She climbed off the bed and locked the door. When she turned around, his tighty-whiteys were nestled in his cords at his ankles. Everything about him was reedy and pale: his dick, his thighs, his pubic hair.
Sally unwrapped her dress, appreciating how sexy it must look as it poured onto the floor. Because of her firm, small breasts, she could get away with going braless. In thong and heels, she sashayed toward Jeremy in big pronounced steps. (It was a walk she had learned at a bridal shower years ago, where a stripper had been hired to give the girls lessons.) In one move, Sally slipped one leg out of her underwear and raised her turned- out leg so her foot was next to Jeremy’s waist. Not something he got the pleasure of seeing every day, she was sure of that. He grabbed a breast in each hand and pulsed them. She smiled once, then again to mask a wince. The last thing Sally needed was for Jeremy to come before they made love, which she knew was a serious possibility.
Therefore, she couldn’t risk licking or even touching his penis.
She wanted them to come together this time, their first time, for the romance.
“You turn me on so much,” she said. “I swear, I think I might come as soon as you stick it in me.” She picked up his dick, now thick and vanilla, like a Twinkie, and lowered herself onto it. Jeremy’s eyes rolled back in his head. She knew it — he was coming!
She let out a yelp and faked it, “Jeremy! Jeremy!” He closed his eyes and gulped. “Oh God,” she said. “Did you come, too?”
“Yes.” His eyes were still closed.
Sally rolled onto her side and covered her face with her hands.
“I’m so embarrassed.”
His eyes flew open, but he didn’t look over.
“I’ve never done that before,” she said. “I bet you do that to all the girls, naughty boy.”
“Do what?” His eyes moved across the ceiling, as if he were counting the white cork tiles.
“Drive the girls crazy with your statistics.”
“No girl has ever done that to me.” Jeremy pulled his pants up and shuddered, as if the cheapness of what happened had just penetrated him. He fixed his eyes on the floor.
Sally could tell she was losing him. They had both partaken in the desperate act of a middle- aged woman in a Marina del Rey condo. She was lying naked, a stranger’s sperm dripping out of her onto someone’s jean jacket. All because she had played it wrong too many times before. The married travel agent who didn’t leave his wife for her like he had promised; the Pepperdine law student who had moved in with her for two years, then dumped her the day he passed the bar for some paralegal who “was a better fit intellectually”; the would-be garment king who had talked her into bankrolling his leather jacket business, then dumped her, along with twenty- six grand of credit card debt in her name.
This one Sally would play right. She pulled her knee into her chest, then twisted so her back was arched and her breasts were well showcased. A classic sexy pose, like those early shots of Marilyn Monroe, only Sally wasn’t so fat. “Well, did you like it?” she purred.
“Don’t make me do it again,” she said with a tease. She didn’t want a big wet spot on her dress. She grabbed something from the bed and cleaned herself off. Whoops. It was Maryam’s scarf. Sally kicked it under the bed and got dressed.
There was a knock on the door. The knob rattled. Sally ignored it. “Would you like to do it again sometime?” she asked.
“Yes.” Jeremy patted his pockets. Sally could relax: he wanted a pen to write down her number.
“Sally! Jeremy! Are you in there?” It was Maryam, of course.
“Maybe we could go on a date.” Sally fixed Jeremy’s collar. “You could send a car to pick me up.”
“That could happen.” Jeremy had a sweet submissiveness that was starting to grow on her. Sally’s type was usually hot guys with hot cars. Like Kurt and his white Jeep Wrangler. How she had loved driving around LA with him, her hair flapping in the wind, a Starbucks venti in one hand, the other clinging to the roll bar for dear life. If Don Henley had ever seen them, she was convinced he would have starred them in his next music video. Sally smiled now just remembering it.
“Sally! Are you in there?” Maryam again.
Sally grabbed her coat and swung open the door. “There you are!” she said. “Jeremy had to pee and I was just getting my coat.”
Sally turned. Jeremy stood in the dim light, flipping a quarter in the air, slapping it on his hand, then doing it again. He must have not found that pen after all. . . .
“If you want a ride home,” Maryam said, “we have to leave now. I’m sure my cat is peeing all over my comforter as we speak.”
“God, okay. I’m ready.” Sally tossed Maryam her jacket. “Here you go.”
“Where’s my scarf?”
“You didn’t have it on when you came in,” said Sally.
“It’s in the car,” Sally snapped. She reached into her pocket and found the single business card she’d tucked in especially for this occasion. She slipped it to Jeremy. “Call me.” She gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Mmwwaa,” he said.