Pattie folded a pair of khaki capri pants into thirds and laid it out atop four others in her suitcase on the bed.
She glanced down at an episode of The Tale playing on her iPad, making a mental note to draw a parallel with Ted Danson’s work on Cheers in her review that week. Harold’s duffel bag sat empty next to hers on the bed. She turned from the duffel expectantly to the front door of their apartment, visible down the short distance of the hall from the bedroom, but there was still no sign of him. She sighed, stepped into the couple’s tiny closet, unzipped a dark blue suitcase, and returned to the bed carrying an armful of colorful silk ascots, linen pants, and seersucker blazers, which she stuffed into the duffel and zipped shut in a single fluid motion. “There,” she muttered to herself. “Now you have all the essentials.”
Pattie heard the unmistakable sound of a key jangling in the front door lock. She turned to see her husband stride jauntily into the apartment, his trim blue suit, typically pressed and creased with precision, wrinkled and spotted with lint and cat hair. The collar of his dress shirt was unbuttoned, and he twirled his necktie in his left hand as he whistled “Last Train to Clarksville.” Pattie studied him, searching for the provenance of this assuredness.
“I’d ask if you had a late night at the office, but I turned on the news this morning and learned that hell hadn’t froze over.”
Harold grinned. “Pattie, we should bring a kite with us this weekend. When was the last time you flew a kite?”
Pattie glanced at him, then returned to folding her clothes. “I packed some of your clothes.”
Harold, busy standing in front of the mirror brushing wisps of blond hair to and fro across his forehead in an apparent attempt to create bangs, glanced behind him. “Oh? Thanks, honey.”
“You still have to pack your underwear and that stuff.”
“That’s okay! It’ll just be part of the adventure!”
“What’s gotten into you?”
“Pattie, I’ve caught up with you!”
Pattie paused halfway through folding a white blouse. “Your editor gave you a raise?”
Harold shook his head. “With your dates, Pattie. I’m finally on the board!”
Pattie looked momentarily confused, then set her jaw hard. “Is that right?” she asked, not looking up from the blouse. “Congratulations.”
Harold plopped down on the bed between their two bags. “Dr. Rothstein was right,” he exulted. “I feel closer to you than ever. Pattie! It’s like how the French do things. You’re my—” he thought. “What’s French for ‘main squeeze’?”
“The Apfelbaums said they’d swing by in their car at eleven. You should get changed so we don’t keep them waiting.”
Harold bounded to his feet and began undressing. “Pattie! You know the invisible wall Dr. Rothstein was trying to get us to tear down? It’s completely torn down on my side! Now that you’ve had a lover and I’ve had a lover? It’s like we’ve both taken LSD, Pattie. It’s like I’m seeing you with the veil off.”
Harold went over to his closet and quickly selected a shirt and pair of shorts in matching pastel colors. “It’s like we’re both seeing the underside of the chair now. What was that expression Dr. Rothstein used? ‘Conscious choice’? Pattie, I chose you so consciously when I came in just now.”
Pattie slammed shut her suitcase, forcefully zipping it closed. “Thank you. That means the world, Harold,” she said levelly.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even expecting to pick anyone up last night,” Harold began to recount as he buttoned his shirt. “Otherwise, I would’ve brought along my overnight bag, you know. After all that time I spent packing my self-discovery kit. But thank God there’s a Duane Reed on every corner in this city.”
Pattie looked up. “You…?”
Harold smiled. “It’s not like you have the monopoly on that, silly. No, I finally decided to take the other guys at the political desk up on their offer to get drinks after work. So, you know, already I’m way out of my comfort zone. I almost texted Dr. Rothstein right then and called it a night. But I’m glad I didn’t, I have to say.”
“That’s terrific, Harold. Put on your shorts.”
Harold obliged. “Don’t worry, honey, she was nothing like you. Probably five three, five four. Too bony for me, frankly. Really slim. She runs marathons. Thin little WASPy lips, dyed blonde hair. Blue eyes.” Pattie ran her teeth across her bottom lip. “Marketing coordinator at Housify, or something like that.”
“You picked up some little marketi—” Pattie stammered. She closed her eyes and exhaled loudly through her nose. “I’m glad you had a fulfilling experience,” she said rotely.
Harold shook his head. “She moved here from Minnesota. She went on and on about how exciting it is to make it in the Big Apple. I didn’t know people even called it that outside of Broadway revivals. French manicure. I guess those are still en vogue in Minnesota, too. She was pretty taken with me,” Harold shrugged, “once I showed her that clip of me on Chris Matthews from last Thursday.”
Pattie emerged from the bathroom carrying a small sky blue makeup bag, which she gingerly tucked into her purse’s side pocket. “How exciting.”
“I wasn’t even sure I still remembered how to unhook a bra! She was wearing this cocktail dress, and I—” Harold paused to remove a chiming phone from his pocket. “It’s Dr. Rothstein! Hello? Thank you! Yes, I feel very fortified right now, you were right.”
Pattie walked into the living room and retrieved a wide-brimmed sun hat from the front closet. “Some French-manicured shiksa marketing coordinator,” Pattie grumbled under her breath. “Some state-school-graduate Great Lakes walking yeast infection.” She checked her phone for work emails, grinding her teeth.
“Pattie!” Harold called from the bedroom. “Dr. Rothstein wants to talk to you. Says he needs an emotional inventory.”
“Tell him I’ll call him back from the road,” she yelled from the living room. “We should take our bags downstairs. Anthony and Natalie will be here any minute.”
“Okay,” Harold said, walking in with his duffel. “He also hasn’t heard an update from your dream journal since the night with the Moor, so bring that with you.”
* * *
Harold reached to the center of the table, scooped a handful of strawberries from a small porcelain bowl, and stuffed them into his mouth whole.
Anthony shook his head. “Whole Foods was certainly crucial at the beginning of the movement, yes, but it’s been years. The last time we had to stop into one—do you remember? The Korean hot food selection was, at best, a cruel joke perpetuated by a middle manager who had never heard of, much less been to, anywhere outside of Seoul.”
“Have you been to any of the Whole Foods in our neighborhood with those shopping cart elevators?” Harold asked, spitting a strawberry stem off the balcony. Anthony followed its arc with disgust as it sailed from the veranda over baroque guardrails and down into an untouched swimming pool, shrouded on three sides by mature hedgerows. The Atlantic Ocean lapped against the pale shore in the distance, glistening pink in the sunset’s last embers.
“Of course, we’re fortunate even to have a Trader Joe’s, when you consider the state of some of the neighborhoods just a short way further uptown,” Natalie sighed.
Pattie murmured in assent. “The food deserts.” She carefully cut a piece of prosciutto-wrapped melon in two on her plate. “The plight of the urban poor is really unspeakable.”
Anthony closed his eyes solemnly. He leaned forward to retrieve a polished, half-full champagne flute, which he raised deliberately raised to his lips. “So, Harold tells us the open marriage is going swimmingly,” he offered as he savored the afterglow of the tiniest of sips. Pattie coughed.
“We were really excited to hear you were giving it a try,” Natalie exclaimed. “It’s worked wonderfully for us.”
“Well,” Harold said, leaning back in his chair and lifting his feet to the table before catching Pattie’s eye, “we have an excellent coach who’s helped us differentiate our hearts from our animal brains. It’s made the loving part of our relationship that much stronger.”
Anthony nodded deeply as he carefully dipped a slice of focaccia in olive oil, his shirt, unbuttoned to just below the sternum, fluttering slightly in the ocean breeze. “American definitions of monogamy are so repressive. This country’s Puritanical roots are never far from the branches of the tree,” he explained. “If you sleep with someone outside of your marriage, you’ve failed. The relationship has failed. What kind of metric is that?”
“Our humanity is grounded in our ability to experience and assimilate new things,” Natalie agreed. “But this little group of backward-looking people dictate how the rest of us are allowed to live, you know?”
“Dr. Rothstein originally suggested the open marriage because I was spending so much time away,” Harold said. “What with my book tour and all my media appearances, you know. It’s been a hectic year.” He surveyed the couple’s faces for signs of admiration. “I was giving Pattie the wrapping paper, but not the present.” Pattie plunged her fork into the remaining hunk of melon on her plate and stuck it in her mouth.
“There’s no reason that your partner has to be your sole provider of physical intimacy,” Anthony concurred. “As marriages grow and mature into romantic friendships, our natural impulse—and, indeed, our healthy impulse—is basically akin to that of a Wall Street bond man: diversify! Diversify! And yet—”
“More prosecco?” a tall, buxom girl wearing a gossamer yellow dress asked, arriving from the white house carrying a metal bucket with an oversized green bottle. Strawberry-blonde hair, wavy from the sea air, cascaded across her shoulders; freckles dotted her sunburned cheeks.
Anthony looked up at the young woman and smiled warmly. “Yes, Nicole, thank you. I think we all could use another round.” Nicole leaned over and began filling Anthony’s glass, her hair hanging down and lightly brushing his face. “That’s perfect,” he said, touching her on the upper thigh. “You can stop there.” He smiled again at her, nodded toward Harold and Pattie, then turned his gaze back to Nicole. “How are you progressing on that index of the French ambassador’s telegrams?”
“Oh, I’m almost through 1927,” Nicole said nervously. “The ambassador uses really strange syntax. Some of them are hard to decipher.”
“1927,” Anthony said vaguely, his gaze not leaving her eyes. “If we could get to December 1933 by the end of the weekend, I think we’ll be just about where we should be, don’t you?”
“Yes, I’d say so.” Nicole smiled apprehensively. “Sorry about that,” she added quickly.
“No, that’s okay.”
“Would anyone like anything else?”
“If you could prepare some more prosciutto e melone, that would be just darling,” Natalie said, her words belied by her cold tone. “That’s Nicole,” she said to Pattie as the woman walked gracefully back toward the main house. “She’s Anthony’s research assistant for the summer.”
“She’s staying in the guest cottage,” Anthony added, running his hand up and down his chest muscles contemplatively.
“A whole summer in the Hamptons.” Harold whistled. “Not too bad, especially for a grad student.”
“Nicole is one of the finest writers I have had the privilege to work with,” Anthony declared.. “Really extraordinary promise.”
“How wonderful,” Pattie said. “I could tell by the way she carried the sashimi tray at lunch.”
“Of course, all of Anthony’s research assistants are…above average,” Natalie commented. “Rose. Lucia. Samantha.”
“My department is very competitive,” Anthony explained. “We attract a lot of remarkable talent.”
“Seems that way,” Pattie mumbled through a mouthful of melon.
* * *
“Another margarita?” a well-tanned man in matching black dress shirt and slacks asked.
Pattie looked up from her laptop, momentarily dazed by the disruption in her train of thought. “Sorry? Um, no, no thanks. Could you bring some more of these little chips, though, when you get the chance?” The waiter nodded obsequiously, and retreated through a pair of dark, wooden swinging doors. Ella Fitzgerald played softly through the speakers above Pattie, who shifted her laptop away from the glare of the lamps on the patio outside, shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Checking to make sure no one was within earshot, she read the paragraph she had just written out loud, then furrowed her brow in consternation. Her fingers began to hammer on her keyboard in rapidfire.
Pattie looked up again, ready to snap at the waiter for a second disruption in as many minutes, when she recognized a familiar face. “Chris? Oh my God, what are you doing here?”
Chris Hayes smiled, his teeth appearing to shine brighter in contrast to his lightly sunburned complexion, and his typically well-kept hair windswept and almost streaked with hints of blond. “I’ve been out here all week. Katy Tur is subbing for me.” He sighed expressively. “The news never stops, but sometimes I do. What are you doing here by yourself?”
Pattie laughed nervously. “I’m on a—just getting some work done. We’ve been up here for a couple of days, too.”
Chris Hayes quickly scanned the room. “Harold is here?”
Pattie shook her head. “He’s back at the house. We’re staying with the Apfelbaums. Do you know them?”
“Of course! Natalie and I—Natalie invites me out on their boat at Chelsea Piers whenever Anthony’s away at a conference.”
Pattie nodded vaguely. “She’s very thoughtful. Why don’t you take a seat?”
Adjusting the white collar of his blue shirt and rolling up the sleeves, Chris Hayes settled into an empty red leather barstool across from Pattie. “Remember the GCB?” he asked.
Pattie smiled. “I remember the time Dhani Harrison and I had to walk you back to your apartment,” she teased.
Chris laughed. “I seem to recall a few nights where I had to carry you home.”
“Um, that’s not my memory.”
“Well, no, not after personal pitchers, it wouldn’t be.”
Pattie gave a look of mock disapproval. “Do I look like the kind of girl who orders personal pitchers, Chris?”
Chris laughed. “Do you still keep in touch with Laura?”
Pattie shook her head. “I haven’t heard from her since she started working at Cravath. Too busy helping big companies buy other big companies, or clubbing baby seals, I guess.”
Chris looked confused.
“Because she’s working for these big…never mind,” Pattie smiled. “Look at you, you’ve gotten so much color. All those liberal baby boomers who watch your show will hardly recognize you when you get back.”
Chris chortled. “We’re actually doing better with 18-to-34s since the Steele Dossier,” he said, leaning forward on his stool. “We’re running fewer vaginal mesh ads than ever. Really exciting time to be a journalist.”
“Of course, Harold’s probably seen something similar, too.”
“Yeah,” Pattie said abruptly.
“How’s he doing?”
“Fine,” Pattie said, glancing at her laptop.
“That’s good,” Chris Hayes said, shifting on the stool. “Everything good with you two?” He paused. “Natalie mentioned—”
“Ugh, she didn’t.”
“Nothing to be embarrassed about. Marriage isn’t one size fits all. You can’t let other people’s expectations dictate how you best relate to your partner. You need to figure out an arrangement that works for the both of you.”
Pattie nodded, looking up at the bottles of spirits gleaming behind the bar.
“For example, Kate is my best friend. But I wouldn’t sleep with my best friend, right?”
Pattie smirked. “You’re starting to sound like Trump. ‘Do I look like the kind of guy who needs to sleep with my best friend?’”
“Oh, Jesus, don’t say that. I spend so much of my day watching clips of that man. Sometimes when I go to bed, I have dreams where I am Trump.”
“That’s horrifying,” Pattie said soberly.
“Here are your chips, ma’am.” The waiter materialized once again beside their table, placing a set of three silver bowls filled with assorted chips and nuts in front of them. “And would your companion like anything to drink?”
Chris looked from the waiter to Pattie. “Are you having anything?”
Pattie considered the question, then turned to the waiter. “I’ll have another margarita.”
* * *
“You’re that Harold Carlyle?” Nicole gasped as she stood up from emptying the dishwasher. “I thought you were a weatherman.”
Harold tried to stifle a grin. “Well, I take society’s temperature, you might say.”
“Huh,” Nicole said to herself, drying off an ornately-patterned plate with a red silk towel. “You wrote that whole book about the election? By yourself?”
“Practically wrote itself.”
“Oh,” Nicole nodded. “That makes more sense. Like that Maureen Dowd book, where the paper just cobbles together your columns?”
“No, no, I locked myself in a room, like Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodworth,” Harold said, his eyes lingering for a half-second on the slope of her neck. He cleared his throat. “So, you’re a grad student?”
“Yeah. Anth—Professor Apfelbaum was nice enough to bring me on for the summer. I’m lucky. A few months in the Hamptons beats the heck out of another summer term teaching a bunch of spoiled undergrads.”
“A few months, huh?” Harold said, adjusting his belt uncomfortably. “You’re living here the whole summer?”
“In the guest house,” Nicole explained. “But apparently the water pressure is awful out there, so Professor Apfelbaum lets me shower in the main house.”
“He’s a dear, all right. Once, when I was over at his apartment, he lent me one of his pens. It wasn’t until later when he phoned me about it that I found out it belonged to Winston Churchill.”
“How do you know Professor Apfelbaum?” Nicole asked. “Do you take erotic dance at the New School?”
“No,” Harold shook his head. “I know him through my—through some of my close friends.” He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, waiting for Nicole to answer. “So did you know A.A. Milne actually had a son named Christopher Robin?”
“Nicoletta!” Anthony exclaimed, bursting into the kitchen, his lanky frame draped by a gold satin smoking jacket. “How are you coming with the telegrams?”
Nicole started. “Your text said to finish with the flatware?”
“Right, right. I guess I didn’t expect it to turn into the Battle of Verdun,” Anthony said, eyeing Harold suspiciously. “Harold, where’s that wife of yours gotten off to? I haven’t seen her all afternoon.”
“Oh, she’s busy exploring our open marriage,” Harold said carefully, glancing at Nicole. “You know, since we’re both sleeping with other people.”
“Ah,” Anthony said, straightening the lapels of his robe. “Well, I expect she’ll be back soon. We told her dessert is at nine.”
“You never know,” Harold said testily. “Since we’re both committed to the principle that men can’t exercise sexual ownership over the women in their lives, she could be out all night, and that wouldn’t bother me at all.”
“Of course, of course,” Anthony said, watching as Nicole bent over to empty a row of wine glasses. “That being said, of course, the two of you have been married for quite a while, and the bonds of affect are obviously still quite strong between you, such that it’s highly unlikely either of you would really consent to the other engaging in a real, no-holds-barred ‘fling,’ if you will.”
“Ah, I think that describes you and Natalie a bit more than the two of us,” Harold countered, glancing at Nicole for a reaction. “Pattie and I are really quite unattached, as far as that goes.” He stretched out his shoulders. “Especially with me being so busy with the clamor around my book, there’s just no other way.”
“Yes, well…” Anthony paused as Nicole stepped onto a stool to put away a stack of plates, the hem of her dress sliding up the underside of her thigh. “I do recall how the two of you still worked from those charmingly bourgeois notions of patriarcal claim to female sexual organs when that hobo approached Pattie at the Philharmonic Concert in the Park last summer, but it’s wonderful to hear you’ve apparently moved past that.” He glanced at Nicole.
Nicole stepped down from the stool. “I don’t see why sexual boundaries and gender equality have to be mutually exclusive.”
“Uh huh.” Anthony scratched his chin. “I thought I mentioned, we don’t put the wooden spoons in the dishwasher.”
“Oh, sorry,” Nicole apologized. “Why not keep some monogamish limitations? As long as the rules are clear and everyone agrees.”
“Is that coconut scented sunblock you’re wearing?” Harold asked.
Anthony studied Harold, then Nicole, then clapped his hands. “What do you say we suit up and hit the pool?” he asked Nicole brightly.
“I still have to finish compiling that index you wanted by tomorrow morning,” Nicole apologized.
“Ah, I’m sure whatever you did this afternoon will be sufficient,” Anthony said. “The weather’s perfect for a soak.”
“I was going to do it this afternoon, but you wanted the Jaguar washed.”
Anthony nodded. “Right, right.”
“I’ll go,” Harold offered. “Let me just change into my suit.”
Anthony sighed. “Certainly, Harold.” He smiled bitterly. “And Nicole…if you finish first.” He winked.
* * *
Pattie doubled over the table laughing. “I forgot about Modern Political Thought. You could literally see Professor Scheiffman unravel through the course of his lecture,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “First the hair would spring out, then his shirt would come untucked. By the end of class, I could usually see his belly button.”
“What do you think inspired me to become a journalist?” Chris Hayes asked. “With hair like this, I realized I wouldn’t fit in academia.”
“That was pretty astute,” Pattie smiled. “It must take you two hours to get ready for your show every day,” she teased.
“Well,” Chris Hayes paused, leaning toward her. “You could find out firsthand, tomorrow morning.”
Pattie leaned back slightly. “I thought you said you were on vacation?”
“I am,” Chris clarified quickly. “But, I still do my hair. It’s just messed up because I was out on the boat.”
Pattie nodded, watching the ice slowly settle in the bottom of her margarita glass. “I’m afraid I can’t.”
“But I thought you said you and Harold were in a…?” Chris Hayes trailed off, wiggling his index and middle finger together.
Pattie smiled. “That’s exactly how you sound when you’re interviewing Carter Page. But no, I’m not actually seeing other people.”
Chris’ face fell. “Then what…?”
Pattie stood up politely, removed a twenty dollar bill from her purse, and placed it on the table. “How else am I supposed to get any work done?’
* * *
Harold formed a cup with his hands on the surface of the pool water and squeezed, sending a jet that arched high into the air, hitting Anthony in the side of his head. Anthony stood unmoving in the waist-deep water, his face set in hard contemplation as he stared at the twinkling lights of the mansions cupping the shoreline in the distance.
“Sorry,” Harold said unapologetically. Anthony twitched his head quickly, shaking the water off his still-dry hair, then slowly leaned back into the water, floating face up with his arms outstretched. Harold averted his eyes.
“Only in the water does man feel truly free,” Anthony murmured. Harold dog-paddled toward the wall dividing the pool from the jacuzzi.
“What would you say the PH level is in this bad boy?”
Anthony picked up his head so his ears came out of the water. “Did you say something, Harold?”
“Just wondering about the acidity levels,” Harold explained, wiping his eye.
“Do either of you two want an aperitif?” Natalie called from the veranda. “Nicole’s making some in the kitchen.”
Anthony stood up. “You asked Nicole to make them?”
“She’s following the to-do list you sent her,” Natalie said tartly.
“How do you know she’s making them?” Anthony asked.
“She just texted me to ask how many of us want one.”
“You’re texting her?”
Natalie basked. “I think maybe I’ll join you two in the pool.”
“Ah,” Anthony mumbled dejectedly, slinking lower into the water. “Well, Harold’s here.”
“I know,” Natalie said. “Trust me, it won’t be any less platonic in there.”
“It’s only that we’re cultivating our camaraderie,” Anthony explained. “Like two Hungarians enjoying a mineral bath. Isn’t that right, Harold?”
“Uh, sure, I think I’ve read about that,” Harold said. “Hungary.”
“And it’s long overdue, if you ask me. How long have we known each other? Seven years?”
“Yeah,” Harold said. “Although we figured out that you already knew my older sister from the Symbionese Liberation Army revival chapter at Columbia.”
“There’s a certain freedom a man can experience only when he’s in the company of another man. A kind of shared primordial worship, glorying in the lusty wildness of his elemental masculinity.”
“Nicole will be back in a couple minutes,” Natalie said, turning to head up the stairs. “I think I just heard Pattie come in. I’m going to go see what she’s up to.”
Anthony reclined and backstroked over to Harold. “This open marriage is wonderful for her,” he said.
“Yeah,” Harold said. “You can tell.”
“You and I, we operate unconsciously from this seat of power. This is mine. This woman is mine. Marriage, you know, began as a gift giving ritual between clans. Women traded as property between families.”
“Uh huh,” Harold said. “When we got married, Pattie’s father gave me a Rolex.”
“By lowering myself to Natalie’s position in our marriage, I’ve raised her up. Liberated her so she can open her arms and savor the fruits of the groves. And for me, it’s been terribly instructive to relinquish that ownership. Like a Buddhist monk renouncing his prized possessions.” Anthony brushed his hair behind his ears. “If you love something, set it free, as the hackneyed saying goes.”
Harold nodded. “I read that people didn’t start marrying for love until the nineteenth century.”
“Actually, it was the twentieth.”
“Times change, I guess. I know you could hardly get my Gram and Gran to sit in the same room together, unless it was a holiday. Gran would just sit in the garage all day and watch the street traffic.”
Anthony nodded, churning his legs and arms to remain afloat in place. Harold assiduously looked at the moon. “Harold, speaking of liberation, what’s your and Pattie’s comfort level with adult play?”
Harold twitched. “Well, Dr. Rothstein gave us some scented oils, but to be honest, they’re still in the basket.”
“That’s funny,” Anthony said emotionlessly. “I was referring to the four of us exchanging partners for the evening.”
Harold thought. “I don’t really think Pattie’s interested in women, and in case it wasn’t clear, I—”
“No, no,” Anthony said, smiling condescendingly. “I mean our spouses. You and Natalie and Pattie and I.”
“Oh.…ah…” Harold struggled to form words. “Well, there’s a certain comfort in the anonymity involved in our…thing. If we started getting together with people we know—it would be like season eight of Friends.”
“A student of your wife’s little television blurbs, I see,” Anthony smirked. “Well, Harold, man to man, I find Pattie quite striking. And I’m, of course, no stranger to Natalie’s charms. The full, soft lips blooming with lascivious temptation. Her figure barely containing a burning earthiness; olive skin drawn tightly around her sensuous hips. And her heaving, primeval breasts—” Anthony paused for several seconds, his hands forming half-circles in midair. “—The bosoms of a woman who suckled Jews to life in the desert.”
“Sure, that sounds great,” Harold said politely. “But one of the ground rules—”
“Ground rules. Boundaries.” Anthony spat into the pool. “Those words are chains, Harold! Shackles! Shackles on your wife’s sexual freedom and on your animal vitality. Your virility. Your blood. The blood that has rushed through the veins of every man since Prometheus first handed us fire, urging us to cast our gaze upon the stars and make.”
Harold inhaled slowly through his teeth. “Honestly, I’ve only been out with one woman, and that’s only because Pattie’s been going to the theater with a new man every other night.”
“All the more reason, my good man,” Anthony said, swimming over to the side of the pool and hoisting himself out in a single fluid motion. “All the more reason.” He bent over the deck chairs, retrieved a towel, and began to pull it back and forth between his legs, like an enormous string of floss. Harold winced, waiting until Anthony had put on his gold robe to swim over to the side of the pool, where, after several unsuccessful attempts, he finally raised himself onto the deck, flopping down like a baby seal.
“Natalie’s room is the third door on the left upstairs, should you change your mind,” Anthony said invitingly as Harold searched underneath the deck chairs, dismayed to learn there had been only one towel.
* * *
“You rejected Chris Hayes?” Natalie asked incredulously.
“It was senior spring all over again,” Pattie sighed, resting her head in her hand. She swirled the aperol spritz in her glass, watching the pieces of fruit inside bob up and down. “Except I doubt I’ll be listening to Oasis for the next two weeks this time.”
“What was the problem? No one would’ve been doing anything wrong. I’ve seen you at the opera with men plenty more ugly than him.”
Pattie shook her head. “I couldn’t sleep with someone else,” she shrugged.
Natalie looked up from her drink. “Pattie, it’s almost every other night!”
Pattie smiled. “That’s just to have dinner with someone whose stories aren’t all about Gram and Gran.”
“So, all your dates have just been strictly platonic? Ezra Klein? Christopher Buckley? Mike Love?”
“Ugh, Michael.” Pattie grimaced. “He even wanted coauthor credit for the review of Veep I was editing while we were waiting for curtain at The Crucible.”
Natalie thought. “But you’d mentioned you’d spent some nights away from your apartment.”
“Yeah,” Pattie sighed. “Those were nights I was under a deadline. I have a couch in my office now, incidentally.”
Natalie chuckled and took a sip from her drink. “You know, forgive me for saying this, but I think this is a real missed opportunity for you. Chris—I guess I don’t need to tell you—he doesn’t just know how to enunciate for the cameras.”
“I think he honed his reporting skills in grad school.” Pattie retrieved an ice cube from her glass and crunched down on it.
“If I were you, I would give Chris a call when you get back to New York,” Natalie shook her head, then put her hand to her mouth. “Except, not on the eighteenth.” She checked her phone. “Yeah, the eighteenth. Anyway, those eight weekends a year Ramòn comes to town on business are like a release valve for my and Anthony’s relationship. I walk into that suite at the Waldorf with a negligee and a case of coconut water, and the next time I see Anthony, it’s like I’m meeting him for the first time again. You might find the same is true with Harold.”
“Fool me once, shame on you.” Pattie snorted. “I have a few more edits to make on my article tonight.” She stood up, straightening her blouse. “I think I’m gonna go upstairs and take care of that before bed.”
Natalie sighed. “Alright. Suit yourself.”
“Sleep well.” Pattie walked down the hall from the kitchen toward the cream-colored entryway and climbed up the freshly-painted white wooden staircase to a dark, adobe tiled hallway. She entered the second bedroom on the left and switched on an imitation Tiffany lamp, pausing for a few seconds to study her face in the full-length mirror that hung against the door. She shrugged. “Still got a few years left,” she smirked at herself.
She crossed the room to an oak desk situated kitty-corner to an expansive, brass-framed bed, opened her laptop, and sat down, when there was a polite tap on the door.
“Come in,” she said politely.
Anthony elegantly flung open the door, a combination of chlorine and aftershave fresh on his face. “Ah, Pattie! I was just looking for my eau de toilette,” he said, closing the door behind him.
“Help yourself,” Pattie said, not looking up.
“Harold and I just went for a swim,” Anthony remarked, rummaging through a dresser in the corner of the room.
“Oh?” Pattie said distractedly, deleting listserv emails from the magazine’s Talk of the Town columnist.
“I could have stayed out longer,” Anthony said, lowering his voice to a sultry register. “The sea air, the moonlight—Diana truly smiles upon us tonight.”
“Right. I remember you explaining how the pool’s heating system worked.”
Anthony closed the dresser drawer and sat down on the bed next to Pattie. He crossed and recrossed his legs slowly, exposing the pale undersides of his thighs, little black hairs standing out against his skin like curlicues. Pattie stared past him, focusing intently on a reproduction of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe hanging on the wall. “Have you ever read Lady Chatterley’s Lover?”
“Yeah, in college, I think,” Pattie said, not meeting his gaze. “Are you looking to start a book club?”
“I was never much for clubs,” Anthony said listlessly, standing up and walking toward the desk. “You know, Pattie, I’ve always thought you were an excellent writer.”
“Thanks,” Pattie said absently.
“A little pedestrian, sure. But I guess you could attribute that to the medium.”
“The Pulitzer committee didn’t think so.”
Anthony fluffed his robe, running his hand gently across the tuft of hair on the center of his torso. “I’ve always thought of the two of us as the real writers in our little group, between you and me,” he added with a gentle smile.
“Mm hmm,” Pattie nodded.
Anthony rested on his elbow, his legs forming a triangle. “There’s a certain indescribable energy when two formidable minds meet, don’t you think so? A physical, kinetic friction stemming from the mental energy, building and…mounting…”
“Uh huh,” Pattie nodded. “Like socks on carpet.”
* * *
“So I hear this voice behind me, saying, ‘do they mail boxes here?’ and I turn around, and—boom, John Travolta,” Harold finished. “Only time I’ve ever been to L.A.”
“Mm,” Nicole said, crouched on her hands and knees as she collected stray slices of pineapple and banana from the pool deck and grudgingly placed them into a hemp bag with “COMPOST” embroidered on the side in white.
“Although, I think I’ll be going back soon,” Harold added. “The Weinstein Company is talking about optioning the rights to the book, supposedly.” Nicole strained to retrieve half a slice of quiche from underneath a deck chair. “Have you ever been to L.A.?”
“Columbia flew us out to a grad conference in Pomona last year,” Nicole said absently, blowing a strand of hair out of her face. “I didn’t see much except the inside of a lecture hall. It was nice to get a little sun in the middle of February, though.”
“Yeah, my publisher has me traveling all over the country. Rooms, halls, cars, planes, buses. Not really buses, though.”
Nicole sighed as she stood up, brushed her hair behind her ears, and shook her shoulders quickly.
“Which is ironic when you think about it—what with my big story about the GOP campaign bus,” Harold chuckled, looking to see if Nicole recognized the reference. “But it’s like Carl Bernstein always said. You can’t wait for the story to find you.”
“Right, I guess not.” Nicole squinted up at the house, her eyes settling on a faintly lit window on the second floor. “I still need to finish this index for Professor Apfelbaum.”
“He works you pretty hard, huh?”
Nicole shrugged. “It kind of varies, after forty.”
“Me, I would never treat my research assistant like that. I believe in a healthy work-life balance. Helps keep the juices flowing.”
Nicole sighed. “It’s par for the course in academia. The only time I haven’t been worked raw was when I was a T.A. for Arthur Tuttle, the Africana Studies chair. He drank so much, he could hardly get up off the couch, much less…” Nicole inclined her head slightly.
“I barely drink at all,” Harold grinned seductively. “You know, if you’re interested in something new, I have a lot of irons in the fire.”
“Oh?” Nicole asked. “Are you writing a book?”
“That’s one of the projects, but…” Harold trailed off, raising his eyebrows.
Nicole nodded. “I mean, it would be nice to get a break from doing the cooking and cleaning.”
“I thought it might,” Harold smiled. “Tonight’s kind of a wash, but maybe we could meet at Bay Kitchen Bar tomorrow night?”
“That sounds great. I’ll bring my CV.”
“Oh, no need. I always keep something in my wallet.”
* * *
“Oh, there were loves after Sarah,” Anthony said, morosely stroking his chest hair as he sat spread-legged in a Louis XIV chair across the room from Pattie’s desk, one draw string of his robe dangling down the center of his lap. “But I never felt that the world turned around them. And even if that’s the natural way of things…one misses it. One seeks that passion one more time.”
Pattie typed staccato across her keyboard, not looking up from her desk.
“As a young man, I wanted nothing more than to make love on the back of a flatbed truck underneath the stars. I masturbated furiously to it. And yet—” Anthony sighed expressively. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
“Uh huh,” Pattie said mechanically, focused on her screen.
Anthony reached back and lazily played with the sheer white window drapes hanging behind his chair. “It’s quarter to three” he began in a husky baritone. “There’s no one in the place / ‘Cept you and me.” He waited for Pattie to look up. “So set ‘em up Joe / I got a little story / I think you should know.”
“It’s like Charlie Rose’s seventieth all over again,” Pattie sighed.
“We’re drinkin’ my friend / To the end / Of a brief ep-is-ode,” Anthony continued softly, closing his eyes. “So make it one for my baby / And one more for the road.” He looked again at Pattie. “Do you know that song?”
Pattie looked up. “I really am under a deadline.”
Anthony shook his head knowingly. “As we all are,” he said softly. “As we all are.”
* * *
“More berries?” Nicole asked, returning to the veranda holding a white bowl. Anthony shook his head sullenly.
“I will!” Natalie volunteered. “Oh, Nicole, we’re so happy for you.” Nicole scooped blueberries and strawberries onto Natalie’s pastel yellow plate. “Not that we won’t miss you, of course—none of Anthony’s assistants have kept the floor as clean as you—but you’re going to love working for Harold. A published author!”
“Part of me hates to leave, especially so abruptly, but this is just such an opportunity,” Nicole agreed. She looked over at Harold and smiled.
Harold looked down at his plate, avoiding both Nicole’s and Pattie’s glances. “Yeah, um, I’ll have a list of some assignments for you later this week,” he said, scratching the back of his head. “I’ll just have to check with the publisher and make sure that little budget issue is all cleared up.”
“Harold also prefers oranges,” Pattie added. “Berries make his throat itchy.” Harold glanced at her. She checked her watch. “Oh, I’m going to be late,” she said without a hint of surprise, standing up.
“Oh?” Natalie asked, her eyes widening.
“Catching the train back to Manhattan. I’ve got to run changes on this piece before NPR calls at four.” Pattie tucked her chair into the table. “Thank you both. We’ll definitely return the favor sometime.”
Anthony sniffed. “Au revoir,” he muttered under his breath.
“Ah, Nicole?” Harold called, furrowing his brow in exaggerated consternation as he glanced down at his phone. “Ah, I just, ah, heard something from my publisher. It seems we don’t have the budget for an assistant at the moment. What with the Kindle. Print media is dead.”
“Oh, well, with that hefty advance you’re getting, I’m sure you could pay her out of pocket,” Pattie said helpfully. Harold looked up at her imploringly. “See you back in Manhattan, my love!” She gave Harold a peck on the cheek and headed to the house.
Harold watched the terrace doors as Pattie sauntered through toward the great hall, then turned his attention back to his plate. Nicole leaned over the table in front of him, refilling his mug of coffee from a silver urn. He picked up his bowl of strawberries. “Actually, an orange would be lovely.”