Authors: Rebecca Serle
It’s now the end of August. Long ago in January, David and I booked a summer share in Amagansett for Labor Day weekend with Bella and our friends Morgan and Ariel.
Bella and Aaron are still together, and unsurprisingly, Aaron is joining us on this trip, turning the weekend into a triple date, which is fine by me. Historically, Bella and I are on opposite schedules at the beach. She sleeps late and parties late. I wake up at dawn and go for a run, cook us breakfast, and fit in a few hours of work before heading down to the water.
David rented us a Zipcar, which is proving problematic in transporting us, our luggage, and Morgan, who is meant to be driving with us. Ariel is taking the jitney later after work.
“This thing looks like it belongs on a Monopoly board,” Morgan says. She’s in her forties, which you’d never know except for the salt-and-pepper hair she sports. She has a baby face, no wrinkles, not even the tiny lines around her eyes. It’s wild. I’ve been sneaking Botox since I was twenty-nine, although David would murder me if he ever found out.
“They said it fits four.” David is shoving my weekend bag over our suitcase, jamming his shoulder into the trunk and pushing.
“Four tiny people and their tiny people purses.”
I laugh. We haven’t even tried to fit Morgan’s backpack or roller bag in yet.
Two hours later, we’re on our way in an SUV David rented last minute from Hertz. We leave the Zipcar parked illegally on our street with the promise from a manager of imminent pickup.
Morgan sits up front with David while I balance my computer on my knees in the back. It’s Thursday, and although this week is sanctioned vacation, there is still work to be done.
They’re singing along to Lionel Richie. “Endless Love.”
And I, I want to share all my love, with you. No one else will do.
“This reminds me,” I yell forward. “We need a list of do-not-plays for the wedding.”
Morgan turns the music down. “How is planning going?”
David shrugs. “Cautiously optimistic.”
“He’s lying,” I say. “We’re totally behind.”
“How did you guys do it?” David asks.
Morgan and Ariel were married three years ago in an epic weekend in the Catskills. They rented out this themed inn called The Roxbury, and the whole wedding took place in various structures on a neighboring farm. They brought in everything: tables, chairs, chandeliers. They arranged artful bales of hay to separate the lounge area from the dance floor. There was a cheese-and-whisky bar, and every table had the most gorgeous arrangement of wildflowers you’d ever seen. Photos from their wedding were on
“It was easy,” Morgan says.
“We’re not on their level, babe,” I say. “Our entire apartment is white.”
Morgan laughs. “Please. You know it’s what I love to do. We had fun with it.” She fiddles with the dial on the radio. “So Greg is coming?”
“I think so. Is he?”
David looks back at me.
“He seems great, right?” Morgan asks.
“Really nice,” David says. “We’ve only met him, what? Once? It’s been a crazy summer. I can’t believe it’s over.” He glances at me in the rearview.
“Almost over,” Morgan says.
I make a noncommittal noise in the backseat.
“He seems stable though, like he has a real job and isn’t constantly trying to get her to leave the country on her parents’ credit card,” David continues.
“Not like us zany freeloader artists,” Morgan teases.
“Hey,” David says. “You’re more successful than any of us.”
It’s true. Morgan sells out every show she puts on. Her photos go for fifty thousand dollars. She gets more for a twenty-four-hour editorial job than I make in two months.
“We had a great time with him at dinner a few weeks ago,” Morgan says. “She seems different. I went by the gallery last week, too, and thought so again. Like more grounded or something.”
“I agree,” I volunteer. “She does.”
The truth is that since that day in the park, since David and I started talking about the wedding seriously, I’ve thought about my vision less and less. We’re building the right future now, the one that we’ve been working toward. All evidence is on our side that that version will be the one we’re living come December. I’m not worried.
“Her longest relationship by a mile already,” Morgan says. “You think this one will stick?”
I hit save on an email draft. “Seems that way.”
We turn off the main highway, and I close my computer. We’re nearly there.
The house is the one we’ve rented for this same week the last five summers in a row. It’s in Amagansett, down Beach Road. It’s old. The shingles are falling off and the furniture is mildew-y, and yet it’s perfect because it’s right on the water. There’s nothing separating us from the ocean but a sand dune. I love it. As soon as we pass the Stargazer and turn onto 27, I lower the window to let in the thick, salty air. I immediately start to relax. I love the massive old trees lining the lanes and stretching down to that wide expanse of beach—big sky, big ocean, and air. Room.
When we pull up to the house it’s already late in the afternoon, and Bella and Aaron are there. She rented a yellow convertible, and it’s parked out front, a chipper greeting. The door to the house is flung open, as if they’ve just arrived, although I know they haven’t. Bella texted me they were there hours ago.
My first instinct is to be annoyed—how many summers, how many times, have I told her to keep the doors closed so we don’t get bugs? But I check myself. This is
house, after all. Not just mine. And I want is for all of us to have a nice weekend.
I help David unload the trunk, handing Morgan her roller as Bella comes out of the house. She has on a pale blue linen dress, the bottom of which has paint splotches on it. This fills me with a very particular kind of joy. To my knowledge she hasn’t painted all year, and the sight of her—hair wild in the wind, the atmosphere of creation hanging around her like mist—is wonderful to witness.
“You made it!” She throws her arms around Morgan and gives me a big kiss on the side of my head.
“I told Ariel we’d pick her up at the east station in like twenty minutes. David, can you grab her? I can’t figure out how to put the top up.” She gestures toward the perky convertible.
“I can do it,” Morgan says.
“It’s no problem.” This from David, even though traffic was horrific and we’d been in the car for nearly five hours. “Let me just drop our stuff.”
Bella kisses me on both cheeks. “Come on in,” she says to Morgan. “I did room assignments.”
David raises his eyebrows at me as we follow the two of them inside.
The house is decorated in part as an old farmhouse and in part like a college girl’s first shabby chic apartment. Old wooden boxes and furniture intermix with white oversize couches and Laura Ashley pillows.
“You two are downstairs again,” Bella says to David and me. The downstairs bedroom is ours, and has been since we first rented the house, the summer Francesco came and he and Bella fought loudly in the kitchen for thirty-six hours before he pulled away in the middle of the night—with the one and only car we’d rented for the weekend.
“Morgan and Ariel are upstairs with us.”
“You know we don’t swing straight,” Morgan says, already on the stairs.
“I’m not straight,” Bella says.
“Yeah, but your boyfriend is.”
David and I set our suitcases down in the bedroom. I sit on the bed, which is wicker, as is the dresser and rocking chair, and I’m hit with a nostalgia I don’t usually experience or entertain.
“They got new sheets this year,” David says.
I look down, and he’s right. They’re white when they’re usually some mix of paisley.
David leans down and brushes his lips to my forehead. “I’m gonna jet. You need anything?”
I shake my head. “I’ll unpack for us.”
He stretches, bending over and grabbing onto opposite elbows with his hands. I stand up and rub the spot on his lower back that I know pinches. He winces.
“Do you want me to drive?” I ask. “I can go. You just drove for five hours.”
“No,” David says, still folded in half. “I forgot to put you on the rental agreement.”
He lifts himself, and I hear his vertebrae crack on the way up.
“Bye.” He kisses me and leaves, grabbing the keys out of his pocket.
I open the closet to find a hanging rod, but no hangers—as usual, Bella has stolen them all and taken them upstairs.
I plod into the hallway in search of the coat closet and find Aaron in the kitchen.
“Hey,” he says. “You guys made it. Sorry, I went for a swim.”
He’s dressed in board shorts with a towel draped over his shoulders like a cape.
“David went to town to get Ariel,” I say.
Aaron nods. “That was really nice of him. I would have been happy to go.”
“David loves the car, it’s no problem,” I say.
“Morgan is upstairs with Bella.” I point toward the ceiling with my index finger. I hear their feet moving on the floorboards above us.
“You hungry?” he asks me.
He goes to the refrigerator and takes out three avocados. I’m struck by his ease, his belonging here.
“Right, you cook,” I say.
He cocks his head at me.
“I just mean, Bella said.”
He nods in response.
What Bella actually said was that he made butternut squash and sage risotto, but before she could have one little bite they’d had sex on the counter, right there in the kitchen. I blink away the image and run my hands down my face, shaking my head.
“So is that a no on guacamole?”
“What? No, yes, definitely. I’m starving,” I say.
“You have interesting ways, Ms. Kohan.”
He starts piling ingredients onto the counter: onions, cilantro, jalapenos, and a variety of vegetables.
“Can I help?” I ask.
“You can open that tequila,” he says.
He gestures with his head to the countertop, where our booze for the weekend is artfully displayed. I find the tequila.
“Ice?” I ask. “I’ll pour.”
I take two small tumbler glasses down from the cabinet and pour a finger of tequila in each one. I pull the ice tray out, careful to hold the bottom drawer of the freezer when I do—another quirk of the house.
“Heads-up.” Aaron tosses me a lime. I miss, and it rolls out of the room. I’m chasing it on my hands and knees when Bella comes floating down the stairs, still in her blue tunic, hair now up.
“Rogue lime,” I say, snatching it before it scurries under the sofa.
“I’m starving,” she says. “What do we have?”
“Aaron is making guacamole.”
I shake my head. “Greg. Sorry.”
“What do you guys want to do for dinner?” Bella asks us. I follow her into the kitchen and she snakes her arms around Aaron’s waist, kissing him on the back of the neck. He offers her up his tequila. She shakes her head.
I know, of course, that they’ve gotten closer. That while I’ve been at work all summer, Bella has been falling for this man. That they’ve been to museums and outdoor concerts and cool, tiny wine bars. That they’ve walked the West Side Highway at dusk and the Highline at sunrise and had sex on every single piece of furniture in her brownstone. Almost. She’s told me all of it. But seeing them now, I’m met with a prick in my chest that I’m not entirely sure how to identify.
I take a seat at the counter and pick a tortilla chip out of the bag that Aaron has set out. He scoops some diced onions onto the back of a knife and dusts them into the guacamole bowl.
“Where did you learn to cook?” I ask. Anyone with knife skills impresses me. I like to believe it’s the one thing that prevents me from being a good cook.
“I’m kind of self-taught,” he says. He nudges Bella to the side and opens the oven. In goes an array of sliced peppers, onions, and potatoes. “But I grew up around food. My mom was a cook.”
I know what that means. It’s not the words themselves, although they are markers, but the way he says it—with a slight bewildered edge. Like he can’t quite believe it, either.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
He looks back at me. “Thank you. It was a long time ago.”
“Dinner?” Bella asks. Her hands are on her hips, and Aaron loops his arms through hers, pulling her in and kissing her on the side of her face. “Whatever you want,” he says. “I’ve got snacks covered.”
“Tonight we have reservations at the Grill, or we can walk to Hampton Chutney if we’re not in the mood for something serious,” I say.
I’m always in charge of dinner reservations. Bella is always in charge of choosing which ones we use.
“I thought the Grill was tomorrow night.”
I grab my phone and pull up our reservations document. Huh. “You’re right,” I say. “It is tomorrow night.”
“Good,” Bella says. “I wanted to stay in anyway.” She snuggles closer to Aaron, who loops an arm around her.
“We can call David, ask him to stop at the store?”
“No need,” Aaron says. “We came loaded. I have plenty to cook.” He goes to the fridge and yanks it open. I peer over the counter. I see rainbows of vegetables and fruits, paper-wrapped cheeses, fresh parsley and mint, containers of oily olives, some rolling lemons and limes, and a large wedge of Parmesan. We are supremely stocked.
“You got all of this?” I ask.
In prior years, I’d be lucky to show up to a stick of butter. There is never anything in Bella’s fridge but mossy lemons and vodka.
“What do you think?” she asks me.
“That I can’t believe you went grocery shopping.”
I head out onto the back patio, which overlooks the ocean. It’s cloudy today, and I shiver a little in my T-shirt and shorts. I need to grab a sweatshirt. I breathe in the fresh air, salty and tangy, and I exhale out the drive, the week, Aaron in the kitchen.
I open my eyes to the slow, melodic stylings of Frank Sinatra. “All The Way” wafts outside. I’m instantly reminded of the Rainbow Room, of twirling slowly under that rotating ceiling.
I turn around. Through the window I can see Aaron, his arms around Bella, moving her to the beat. Her head is on his shoulder and there is a slight smile on her face. I wish I could take a picture. I’ve known her for twenty-five years and I’ve never seen her this relaxed with anyone, this herself. And I’ve never seen her close her eyes against a man.