“Because I love how outrage focuses your attention.” He smiles again.
I close my eyes. “Send someone else,” I say faintly.
“Very well, I will,” Philip says. “On one condition.”
I open my eyes. We gaze at each other in silence.
I stand up and shut the door. “Dress on or off?”
He comes around from behind his desk. “What a question.”
I reach back for the zipper. “I want you to spank me again.”
“You enjoyed that?” He stretches out on the long leather sofa. I climb on top of him.
“No,” I say, my mouth close to his ear. “I
Afterward, I lie beside him and rest my head on his chest. That was exactly what I needed. And exactly why I left my party. Maybe that was obvious. It wasn’t obvious to me. Not right away.
I feel his hand on my head, his fingers combing through my tangled hair. Philip has a lot of stamina for an old guy. I think about old guys. They’re all right. They’re all so very, very—
I love calling him “sir.” It’s making me excited all over again.
“Something is troubling me,” Philip says.
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”
I feel him separate one curl from the rest, twirling it around his finger, tugging it gently. “The fact is, I may have misled you just now.”
“In what way?”
“You still have to prep Hoffman.”
I sigh contentedly and pat his chest. “I know.”
He raises his head to peer at me. “You do?”
I sit up and stretch. I start gathering my clothes. “Of course. And I don’t mind.” I look down at him. “Although it was wrong of you to try to coerce me.”
“I know.” He smiles. “Wasn’t it wonderful?”
It really was. So I let him coerce me again. Then I coerce him for a while. Then I get dressed and get a cab and go home.
Will and I live in a loft on North Moore Street. Before he moved in five months ago, the place was spare and chilly and barren—much like my soul, as Freddy likes to say. Now it’s cozy and inviting, full of Will’s old furniture and art and the beautiful things he picks up on his travels.
He must have heard me stumble out of the elevator, because he’s waiting at the door. In a t-shirt and pajama pants, his hair all tousled from the shower. Freddy’s right—he’s so cute.
He yawns and smiles at me. “Hi, Lily.”
“Baby! You waited up.”
Logs are crackling in the fireplace. Soft music is playing. I collapse
in his arms. He searches my face with loving eyes. “Do you need the bucket?” he asks tenderly.
“Not yet,” I whisper.
He helps me to the sofa and hands me a glass of fizzy water. Aspirin. A mug of tea. He had it all waiting for me.
I stretch out and rest my head in his lap. He covers me with a blanket. “Did you have a good time tonight?” he asks.
I don’t deserve him. I know this.
“It was okay.”
He brushes a few strands of hair from my forehead. “You look beautiful.”
The fact that I acknowledge that I’m a terrible person doesn’t make me any less terrible. I know this, too.
I gaze up at him hopelessly. “I’m a pig in a poke, Will!”
“I love you just the way you are,” he says.
“Oh, ha,” I say weakly. “Ha ha.”
I’ll be better. I will!
I’ll find a way to be worthy of him.
“We have an early flight,” he says. “Let’s get you to bed.”
“I love you, Will!” I cry. “I love you so, so much.”
And at this moment, I do. I really do!
He grins at me. “Then I have a great idea.”
“Let’s get married!”
I close my eyes. “Okay!”
What am I doing? What have I
Stop. Just … calm down.
It’s going to be fine. Totally fine!
How? Not sure. Really not sure about that. But it is. I know it is.
Everything’s going to be fine.
The drive to
JFK is tough. I have to use my bucket twice. Check-in and security are special little hells. Will coaxes me through the terminal. I basically crawl down the aisle of the plane and collapse into my seat.
The woman next to me is whimpering, her head between her knees. I touch her back gently. “Are you okay?”
“I’m so friggin’ sick!” she moans.
“Hey, me too! I had my bachelorette party last night.”
She lifts her head. “Get outta here!”
Her name is Lola. She’s getting married in Boca Raton in three days.
“Marry on a Wednesday,” Lola informs me, “and you’re less likely to divorce. Like, way less.”
“They proved it,” she says solemnly. “With
Naturally, we start swapping war stories.
“There’s one tuxedo shop on the island,” I tell her. “Our wedding planner drops off the deposit, and a few hours later the place is robbed. At gunpoint.”
“I might know the guys who did that,” Lola says.
“They were caught a couple of days later.”
“Oh,” she says. “Then no.”
I lean across Will to look down the aisle. “When do you think they’re going to start the beverage service?”
“We haven’t left the gate yet,” he murmurs.
“This formalwear bullshit is bullshit,” Lola says. “Bettina, my maid of honor? She’s, like, one of those all-natural girls? Doesn’t buy paper towels? Eats the shit out of kale?”
“Oh yeah.” I nod sympathetically. “I know the type.”
“I choose this strapless dress for the bridesmaids, right? Gorgeous.” Lola purses her fat little shrimp-colored lips. “Now Bettina says she won’t shave!”
“It’s disgustin’! All brown and tufty?” Lola shudders. “Like she’s stashin’ a couple of those animals up there. You know the ones?”
“Olinguitos?” I repeat.
“They’re from Ecuador.” She shakes her head. “Cross-eyed little fuckers.”
I try to steer the conversation back on track. “The first resort we booked for our guests was super eco-conscious, like your friend,” I say. “Solar powered, carbon neutral, zero emissions, you know?”
“Like with the crappy lightbulbs?”
“Exactly. But get this.” I lean closer to her. “It closed down last month, after they found a dead hooker in the cistern.”
!” Lola cries.
“That’s so nasty!”
She picks thoughtfully at a bit of orange skin flaking off her nose. “I got these girl cousins comin’ to the wedding? Identical twins? Real heavy?” She pauses. “They’re totally doin’ it.”
I feel my mouth drop open. “With each other?”
“Always sneakin’ off during family functions, like to the garage? Writin’ these weird poems to each other?” She takes her phone out of her bag and starts scrolling through her photos. “Lemme see if I got a picture. You won’t believe how gross.”
Will mutters, “She’s kicking your ass at this game.”
I turn to look at him. He’s hunched over his phone, his long body pretzeled into the tiny seat. He’s wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a faded green baseball cap pulled low over his unkempt hair. He hasn’t shaved, and he’s so absorbed in whatever he’s typing that his glasses have
slipped to the very end of his nose. Basically, he looks like a handsome vagrant, not someone who speaks four dead languages.
I nudge him. “They just closed the door. You can’t text in here.”
He nudges me back. “Try to stop me.”
I snatch his phone away. He grabs for it, but I hold it out of reach. “I need that!” he protests.
“You are so addicted to this thing.”
“Addicted,” he says. “
“Please. I’m an amateur compared to you.”
He reaches for it again, but I hold it tight. “Ian has a question about my research proposal,” he says, laughing. “I have to answer!”
“The first step toward recovery,” I tell him, “is admitting that you have a problem.”
He folds his hands in his lap. “I have a problem.”
“A serious problem.”
“I’m a very sick person,” he says obediently, “and I need help.”
“Good boy.” I look at the phone more closely as I hand it back to him. “Wait—is this new?”
“It’s my work phone,” he replies, finishing his text.
“The museum gave you a phone?”
“For when I travel.” He powers off the phone and slips it into his pocket. “All the curators get one.”
“That makes sense,” I say. “In case one of those burning archaeological emergencies crops up.”
Will sighs. “Here we go.”
“Like if those pesky Nazis try to steal the Ark of the Covenant again.”
He takes my hand. “Have I ever told you how much I appreciate the respect you have for my work?”
I kiss his cheek. “You’re welcome, baby.”
We finally take off. Lola and I have a friendly-but-sort-of-not tussle over the shared armrest. I doze for a while. An elderly woman comes out of the restroom. I unbuckle my seat belt.
Lola eyes me dubiously. “You goin’ in there?”
“I never use the toilet after some old lady.”
“Seniors,” I say. “They’re so tidy.”
“They’re filthy sluts,” she informs me.
I slap her leg. “Lola, you crack me up!”
“What do they give a shit about STDs? They’re basically dead! My great-aunt Rita, she’s eighty-four? She’s got a colostomy bag, and, like, rickets? Had gonorrhea three times!”
“Poor lady!” I say.
Lola snorts. “Auntie Rita ain’t no lady, honey.”
Will sticks some kind of bran muffin from hell in my face. “Why don’t you try to eat something?”
Looking at it makes my stomach churn all over again. “I don’t think I can.”
I take one bite, to please him.
“He’s a keeper,” Lola announces. “He’s a prize.”
I rest my head on his shoulder. “I know.”
“Mine impregnified a stripper at his father’s bachelor party,” she continues.
“Wait,” I say. “His
“Fourth marriage,” Lola explains.
“Sounds like my family. Was this before you guys met, or …?”
“Nah. Benny and me been together since high school. But he made it up to me. See?” She shows me her engagement ring.
“Beautiful,” I say.
“Big-ass,” she agrees.
“What happened to the baby?”
“Cordelia’s almost three,” Lola tells me. “So cute! Gonna be the flower girl.” She picks up her phone. “Lemme see if I got a picture.”
We have a layover in Miami. Our plane to Key West is smaller, and the rows have only two seats. I have no one to talk to but Will, and his nose is buried in a book.
I nudge him. “What are you reading about?”
“Epictetus,” he says, not looking up.
“The suburb of Cleveland?”
Will turns a page. “That’s the one.”
I nudge him again. “I’m bored. Talk to me.”
“Why don’t you read a book?”
bored. Tell me about Epictetus.”
He closes his book and adjusts his glasses. “He was an ancient philosopher. A Stoic. He was born into slavery in the first century AD, in what’s now Turkey. But he lived most of his life in Rome and Greece.”
I snuggle into my seat. I love listening to Will talk about his intellectual interests. He’s so adorably precise and methodical. Long, complicated sentences roll right out of him. It’s kind of like being engaged to an audiobook.
I pick up one of his hands and start to play with it.
“Epictetus believed that our capacity for choice is our greatest strength and the source of our freedom. It allows us to recognize the very limited number of things in life that are within our actual control.” I like Will’s hands. They’re strong and calloused—from all his fieldwork, I guess. He’s got long fingers with big knuckles. Bony wrists. I hold one of my hands up and compare them, palm to palm.
He breaks off midsentence. “Are you trying to distract me?”
“Of course not!” I let go of his hand. “Why, is it working?”
“Always.” He smiles down at me. “Where were we?”
“Choice. Freedom. Control.”
“Right.” He collects his thoughts. “Epictetus believed that all human suffering is the result of our futile attempts to control things that are not within our power to control. Our bodies, our possessions. External events. Other people.”
“Epictetus was anti-suffering?” I say. “What a coincidence—
“Only by renouncing our desires and attachments can we obtain a measure of inner peace and live in harmony with the universe.”
thirsty,” I say. “Would you mind renouncing your attachment to that orange juice on your tray?”
“Why don’t I renounce it onto your head?”
“I don’t think that would be harmonious with the universe, Will.”
“True,” he agrees. “But it would provide me with some much-needed inner peace.”
By the time we land in Key West I’m feeling a thousand times better.
I spot Mom the instant we walk into the terminal. She’s leaning against a wall with her hands shoved deep in her pockets, saying something to a little grey-haired woman who’s hopping from one foot to the other, scanning the new arrivals anxiously. Mom’s faded auburn hair is pulled into a messy ponytail, and her ivory skin—the sign of a true Florida native—seems to glow amid the peeling tourists in their tropical shirts. She looks relaxed and natural. Nowadays I only see her when she and Gran visit me in New York. She looks so out of place there, an anxious, scruffy stray among the hyper-groomed lynxes prowling the streets of Manhattan. Here, she belongs—which explains why she never wants to leave. That and her business. She renovates old buildings, historic Florida architecture, mostly. She’s become a real expert. She dresses the part, too: paint-spattered cargo shorts, old t-shirt, work boots.
Mom sees me and launches herself off the wall. She throws her arms around me, already sniffling. What a softy.
“Lily! You’re really here!”
“I’m here,” I say into her hair, which smells like lemons and sawdust.
She releases me, laughing and wiping her eyes, and we both turn to Will. “This is my mother, Katherine,” I tell him. “Mom, this is Will.”