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There was no offer to pick me up from the station so I walked the two miles to Alan’s beach house. I had not been to the Hamptons since college and as I passed each blonde mansion hiding behind its tall green hedge, I was reminded of their self-importance and why I had not returned. Alan’s house was at the end of Dune Road, where the street meets the ocean. A grey box of shiplap and glass tilting toward the sea, I remember when his parents bought it. We were in ninth grade and his father had just made partner at Booth Capital. I climbed the wide wooden steps, knocked three times and after a moment Alan appeared. He gave me a weak hug which brought me back to the hollow of our shared childhood. He was stockier and had balded fully. His eyes were small and sharp like a beach lizard. He turned inside as if we had seen each other that morning. I kept my breath in my throat and felt I had made the wrong decision in coming. I dropped my bag by the door and followed guardedly as he showed me the house, pointing to signed baseball jerseys in shadow boxes hanging next to photos of him and his father holding tightly to celebrities looking to get out of frame.
Simone came in from the den at the back of the house, by the ocean. She was bigger than I remembered and for some reason this made me happy. She was clutching a braid of dry brown hair and a distressed cotton shirt hung designedly off her shoulder. She had a dark, round face and green eyes that weren’t Jewish. We had met once, when I visited Alan in college six years before. It was the last time I had seen him. As she hugged me she held my neck and whispered how thankful she was that I came. Then she held my hand as though we were friends. Alan watched as he twisted the caps off two beers and I could not tell what he was thinking. He looked haggard, as though years of the wrong choices had finally stepped out of his interior. We had used him, our small group of friends, at first for his toys and late bedtimes then for his money and apartment on 83rd and Park. I suppose that’s why I agreed to come, to make amends.
Simone showed me to the guest room. A fastidiously made bed, clearly unused for many seasons, sat opposite the door. The room was decorated in shades of tan and grey beneath a low white ceiling and was clean bordering on sterile. My window looked out over the driveway, a cobblestoned circle from whose center thrust a rusted sculpture of a dolphin jumping over expensive rocks. Across the street was a golden marsh that stretched inland for a half mile to a row of small, local houses. The sky was bright blue and the distant, colorful homes looked inviting. Black wetsuits dried on bleached porch railings. Wind chimes swayed easily across the marsh and tickled the closed window. I tried to gain a sense of why Simone had called me here, something to do with Alan’s depressive moods or his space-filling drug habit, both of which I ignored, we had ignored. Or just as often benefited from. When we were seniors in high school, Alan would carry a roll of cash and offer to pay for us.
I showered and returned downstairs. Despite the pleasant view at their backs, Alan and Simone were in the den facing the television. Simone was looking at her phone while Alan’s back formed a mound as he bent over the coffee table. I took my beer from the island in the kitchen and walked past them to the porch. The beach was crowded with visitors, some on bright blankets only feet from the house. The wind was warm and I tasted seaweed. Alan knocked on the window and waved me inside. The air in the house was freezer burned and I wanted to go back outside but I was their guest now. He had rolled a joint and offered it to me but I declined so he stood and went outside. After he left the room, Simone told me with pride while still looking at her phone that Alan recently began leaving the house to smoke. When I didn’t respond she looked up and said again how thankful she was that I came. When I asked why she had called and was so insistent on my coming, she was evasive to the point of irritation. “I felt he needed a friend,” she repeated. “It gets lonely out here, just us, by ourselves.” As though they were forced to remain at the beach. She spoke with a childish lilt despite being twenty-four or twenty-five. I could tell by how she sat on the sofa that she hadn’t grown up with money, that maintaining this indolent lifestyle was a priority and possibly, though I could not see the angle currently, one reason for her calling me here. Or I could blow it up, I thought. A few words and I could put Alan in his BMW and send us all back to the city. I had that power over him, we all did.
Last I heard, Alan was working for his father but that seemed improbable since it was early Monday afternoon. I asked Simone what Alan did for work but before she answered she asked if she could take a photo with me. She had wedged into our brief phone call that she had a large social media following. I thought it was not difficult with white walls and beach views to trick people into believing your life was pretty, you were pretty. I said maybe later. “He talked his way into managing Beach Bar. To stay busy.” Stay busy. As though Alan didn’t have to work. He didn’t, few people from our community did, but they did. Wealth as a tool, not a crutch. She muted the television and turned toward me. “In the beginning he was good at it. I think he liked being around people, but like all his jobs he got bored and quit. That was three months ago.” She said this with no judgment, as though it happened weekly, and until then I hadn’t realized Alan was living full time at the beach. That was the sort of thing one heard about after synagogue or over brunch. “What do you do for work?” I asked, trying to assemble a day in their life. She turned toward the television and lay back down, stacking two velvet throw pillows beneath her head. “Online classes,” she said before turning the volume back up and continuing with her phone. I went outside to Alan who was leaning on the railing and looking toward the ocean.
“Beautiful,” I said, coming up next to him.
“She’s pregnant. That’s why she called.”
“Congratulations,” I said too quickly, unsure of the right tone.
“She wants me to shape up or stay the same, I honestly can’t tell.”
“Don’t you speak to each other?”
“Of course we do.” He left it there.
“Was it planned?”
“Shit. You know it wasn’t. We’re keeping it though.” His face was serious like a child’s. He turned back toward the house. He took a long drag and offered me some but I waved it away.
“Do your parents know?”
“They know,” he said as though I were Marcy or Donald. He was rolling a pebble beneath his sandal and blew an impressive cloud of smoke. The sunbathers nearest the deck turned at the sour smell.
“When’s she due?”
“December.” He stretched upward revealing his belly. For the first time since I arrived, we made eye contact. “I’ve been feeling lately like I have a calling to be a father. I can give the baby everything it needs. I’ve got my fuck-ups but—”
“Fuck-ups? You’re a good person, Alan. You know that, right? I wouldn’t be out here if you weren’t.” I immediately regretted saying this. It shone, in my mind, and I’m sure in his, a bright light on all the years I was not there, not me or any of the others. And when we were there, we weren’t really. Alan and I stood in silence and I felt a great chasm between us. If he asked me to leave in that moment I would have.
“You sweet asshole,” he finally said, breaking into a smile. He was shorter than me by half a foot. “Look at Jack, look at Goldberg and Steven and Danny. All you guys have shit going on and I’m in my parents’ beach house.”
“So you live in a beach house. Everyone would love this,” I lied. “Look at this view. And I hear you had a job. Fuck-ups don’t get jobs.”
“It wasn’t even the alcohol,” he said, heading off my assumption. “AA solved that. It’s these locals. I couldn’t stand them talking about nothing anymore. The city’s two hours away. Get on a fucking train.” He had never been able to control his temper. My chest grew tight but instead of his face reddening as it always had he relaxed his shoulders and smiled. “But you’re here now. Richie Geft, in my house. Let’s celebrate. Please, for me.” He held up the joint and I took it.
The rest of the day passed in surprising camaraderie. Alan and I went into the ocean while Simone stayed inside. We took a drive around town and he showed me a small storefront just off the main drag he was considering buying. He told me about all of his failed ventures over the past few years, each an attempt at fulfillment without doing any work. That evening all three of us sat on the porch, Alan and I drinking beer and recalling our time together as children and teenagers. In the romance of the dimming beach, it felt to have been a genuine friendship. Occasionally, Simone would look at me over the candles. When Alan went to the bathroom, she took my hand and held it in her lap. I was drunk and let her. When Alan walked out I quickly moved my hand and Simone relaxed back into her seat. I felt like he had walked in on us. I knew he had seen but he stayed silent.
The next morning was overcast and wet. I came downstairs and Alan was sitting on the porch. I had plans to walk the beach and do some writing. That is also why I came, to write. In our community, teacher must be a step to something more. The sound of the sliding glass door made him turn.
“Fun night,” I said as I took the chair next to him. The sun was behind the grey ceiling. A wind blew off the ocean, snapping the nautical flags on the property next door. Alan had a beach towel draped over him.
“Very fun,” he said. Without taking his arms out from beneath the towel he turned in his chair to face me. “She likes to do that.”
“Hold other guys’ hands in front of me. Kiss other guys. I don’t mind. She’s not fucking them or anything.”
“Are you sure?”
“Where would she do it?” he laughed. “She’s with me all the time. She called you out here to help me with this baby, didn’t she?” I didn’t know if that was why she called me but I couldn’t argue nor did I want to. Before he mentioned it, I hadn’t remembered her taking my hand. It soured the night in my mind and I thought this was the moment of confrontation but Alan sat calmly and stared, lost in thought beyond the black line of the horizon. We sat on the porch for a while before Alan said he had a meeting with a local real estate developer. I spent the rest of the morning trying to write in my room. The air conditioning was on high and the carpet was plush and still had vacuum tracks in it and now my footprints. Despite the gloomy day the light was generous from the large rectangular window. Simone stuck her head in twice to ask if I was hungry. Without turning I said I wasn’t. The second time she came in I realized she hadn’t moved from behind the door after she closed it. I stopped breathing and we were both suspended on either side of the wall, listening for the other.
Over the next few days, Simone was aloof and sometimes flirtatious and Alan and I held easy conversation. In the mornings I would walk along the beach by myself and in the afternoons I split up my writing by taking a swim in the ocean. Alan sometimes joined. Aside from a night out at Beach Bar, Simone didn’t leave the house other than to accept food deliveries on the front porch. My impression of her shrunk as my feelings for Alan grew. An introspection lit our conversations and I felt small because I had been too harsh in my view of him. While we walked with our feet in the green ocean I apologized for our friendship but he wouldn’t hear it. By the fifth evening, I found myself coming around to their way of life.
On Saturday, when Alan was out of the house, Simone knocked on my door and came in without waiting for a reply. She came over and leaned against the laminate desk. She had yet to tell me she was pregnant and I hadn’t brought it up at Alan’s request. After a brief, confusing silence she kissed me. I kissed her back more out of shock than desire then quickly pulled away. She looked at me with what I think she believed were searching eyes then said in a rush, “I’m pregnant.” I said I knew and felt that if I did not move we would go further so I stood and walked over to the bed. She remained against the desk looking very young and I sat on the bed with my hands tucked beneath my legs. As she stood there I grew to detest both her and myself. She had lured me into their melodrama and I had let her. After a few minutes of expectant silence she left. I booked a ticket for the morning train.
Alan came into the room about an hour later with his hands held up. “It’s okay,” he said. “Please don’t leave.” I was surprised that he made the leap to my leaving and knew as soon as he said it that he would never become more than he was, not for this baby or ever. I realized how many times he had over the past week excused what should have been confronted. He kept putting himself after Simone, after me and the few people who had watched him stay in one place all his life, as if he were hoping to become so small that nobody would pay him any attention or expect anything at all.
“I didn’t even have time to react,” I said, not knowing if this was true.
“It’s the hormones, right? Isn’t that what they say? Let’s hit the beach.” He smacked my thigh and stood from the bed.
“It’s not fine, Alan. Not for me or you or her. I never asked to be involved in your relationship.”
He quickly looked hurt. When we were children, if a teacher reprimanded him, he would push out his bottom lip and feign sadness and it worked every time. At that age it was some great trick but now it was terrible to witness.
“She’s carrying my kid.”
“She can’t go around kissing your friends. You need to talk to her.”
“We do talk. All the time.” They had barely spoken during my stay. “You haven’t been through what we have. You wouldn’t understand.”
I wanted to ask what they had been through but didn’t. It seemed that neither had been through very much, that even their hard times, whatever they might have been, were beige.
When I came downstairs the next morning with my bag hanging from my shoulder, Alan jumped from his chair.
“Not yet, Rich. You just got here.”
“It’s been almost a week.”
“One more day. A few more days,” he pleaded, forcing a smile and going from foot to foot.
Simone came down the stairs clutching her braid. She had just come out of the shower and smelled warm and floral. After I spoke with Alan the night before, he had called Simone into my room and they apologized together. It was surreal, this pregnant girl and her boyfriend, my old friend whom I had for so long treated like a doorman, a chauffeur, an ATM, both apologizing for her having kissed me. To rid us of the discomfort I suggested we walk the beach. It was a clear night with enough stars and a warm breeze to soften the preceding few hours. The three of us walked in silence for a long time. Eventually Simone jumped on Alan’s back and we began to laugh. We ran in and out of the surf. We ground our elbows into the sand and stared silently at the constellations. We felt we had gone through something. I fell asleep to the sound of their laughter from the master bedroom.
“You can’t go,” said Simone, holding my arm. Their pleading embarrassed me. I had booked my ticket and said so, but they rebutted that a ticket was good for any day of the week. That I could at least stay through dinner. That we hadn’t even been to any restaurants. When he said this, Alan smacked his head as though he had forgotten about restaurants. He looked like one of my students searching frantically for an answer. As I stood watching them press me to stay, I recognized what I had been feeling throughout my time with them. It was not easy creating a full life, not in the Hamptons or the city or anywhere. They wanted to feed off my efforts and I had no intention of letting them. Not that I or Jack or Goldberg or Steven or Danny had our lives perfectly together. But Alan didn’t have his life together enough to even look like he didn’t have it together. His life didn’t register outside of this house. There was a poisonous malaise that colored everything they did. My other friends’ beach houses were empty.
Whether in anger or ignorance, neither offered a ride to the station. As I walked, I realized that the guilt I felt was the result of a manipulation they were not even aware of committing. Pulling into the shimmering, muggy city, I held nothing against them.
A few days later, Alan called to thank me for coming. I encouraged him to find a job and move back to the city. I told him he should call when he did. Soon the school year started and I had no time to think about Alan. Four months later, during winter vacation, he called me but I ignored it. He left a voicemail saying that he had moved back to the city and that he was looking for work. He stated with pride that his father had offered him a job but that he had turned it down. He ended the message asking if I would get a drink to celebrate his new baby, Charlotte. When Steven and I went to dinner that night, he told me he had bumped into Alan, his girlfriend and their baby on the street. I said his girlfriend’s name was Simone and his baby’s name was Charlotte. Steven said that Charlotte looked very little like Alan.
Jacob Frommer enjoys writing about being a modern Jew. He is a current MFA student and has been published in several small but mighty online literary journals.