To Your Hurt’s Desire
“Please, please, Rob,” Judy begged me as she drove through Bridgehampton, “don’t screw it up for me this weekend.”
“And how would I go about doing that?” I asked from the passenger seat of the silver Mercedes E Class sedan she’d rented.
“I don’t know,” she said impatiently, “by insisting they let you watch some ballgame.” She made the last word sound like a beheading.
“Ballgame? You mean there are ballgames on?”
I’m not usually this sarcastic, but, really, the only reason I was in that car was because Ford Kingsley, senior partner at the prestigious law firm she worked for, had casually suggested she bring her husband along to their “working weekend” in the Hamptons. To my wife, Ford Kingsley’s casual suggestions were the commandments Moses forgot to bring down from Mount Sinai.
“I’m sure there’s some damn game you’re dying to watch,” she said. “Is Michigan playing this afternoon, by any chance?”
“I don’t know,” I mumbled. “I thought I heard somewhere that they were playing Illinois.”
She groaned. “Well don’t bring it up, okay? Just be polite and go along with whatever Ford and his wife have planned.”
“I also heard somewhere that Game Seven of the World Series is tonight.”
She groaned again, louder.
“Don’t worry,” I assured her, “it’s really only Game Three. And I promise you, I am here in total support of your ambitions. Me and this obscenely expensive car you rented.”
“It would look pretty chintzy if we showed up in some Chevy compact,” she said.
“Is he really going to think we own this car?”
“It doesn’t matter; it’s the first impression.”
“Right. For all we know, his gardener drives up in a car like this. Besides, won’t it raise a few eyebrows when they look at your expense account?”
“It’s not on the account. I paid for it with my own personal money.”
“Which is to say, our own personal money.”
Judy glanced over at me and smiled. “Think of it as an investment in our future.”
I leaned back against the plush leather and watched the dunes on Montauk Highway go by for a few minutes.
“In a just world,” I opined, “sixth-grade public school teachers would have houses in the Hamptons and corporate lawyers would live in one-bedroom apartments.”
She laughed softly. “Well, you’re already living with a corporate lawyer in a one-bedroom apartment. And if you ever want to be that sixth-grade teacher with a house in the Hamptons, you’ll be nice to Ford and his wife this weekend and behave yourself.”
I said nothing.
Our entire apartment could have fit into their entrance hall, several times. It was three stories high and made entirely of marble, except for the mahogany banister running down the grand staircase. On the walls were what at first looked like Rembrandt paintings, but later, close up, I saw that they were mosaics, like the ones on the interior walls of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Ford and Diana Kingsley greeted us at the door, a modest term for such a massive, oaken, fortress-worthy structure. They were wearing tennis shorts. He looked to be in his fifties, tanned and robust, with thick, salt-and-pepper hair. She was blonde and pretty, equally tanned and probably ten years younger.
Ford shook my hand with just the right amount of warmth and firmness and introduced us to Diana, who smiled and took each of our hands in turn.
“Rob,” Ford said, as they guided us through several opulent rooms toward the patio, “I want you to relax and enjoy yourself this weekend. Do whatever you want. You just tell Diana, and she’ll make it happen.” We reached the patio, which was half the size of a football field. “All right, then,” he proclaimed, “let’s have some lunch!”
And “some lunch!” pretty much said it. They’d set up a buffet that could have fed a few dozen people. Carvers in chef’s hats stood, knives at the ready, next to slabs of ham and turkey. We loaded our plates, then sat down around a glass table, while a maid hovered nearby in case our drinks needed to be refreshed.
As I munched on a turkey sandwich with the best Dijon mustard I’d ever tasted, Ford started to bring Judy up to speed.
“In case you wondered why the class-action suit we’re facing this time is a private one, why Magna Cola isn’t being sued by the town of Watahawken, New York, it’s because the town has, essentially, ceased to exist.”
“What would you like to do today?” Diana asked me.
I pulled my attention away. “I don’t know. What did you have planned?”
“What I have planned,” she said, “is whatever you’d like.”
“We usually reframe their terms, early on,” Ford was saying. “If they use a phrase, for instance, like ‘near-total depletion of the groundwater,’ we say ‘the natural settling of the water table.’”
I realized Diana was waiting for me to speak. “I don’t want to take you away from what you’d normally be doing,” I said.
She laughed. “Some people would say there’s very little that’s normal in what I’d normally be doing, but never mind me. You’re the one calling the shots this weekend, Rob. And I’ll bet you’d like nothing better right now than to be watching the Michigan-Illinois game. Am I correct?”
I must have blinked several times. “How did you know that?”
“You went to Michigan, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Ergo, the Michigan-Illinois game,” she said with the flicker of a mischievous smile.
“Likewise,” Ford went on, “when they claim there are high levels of arsenic, cadmium, and lead in the remaining groundwater, we say they have to show us why it wasn’t caused by their own pesticide use.”
“Come on,” she said, “it’s probably halftime by now. Bring your sandwich.”
I glanced over at Judy, who was staring raptly at Ford Kingsley.
“Never mind them,” said Diana, tossing her long, blonde hair as she stood up. “Folks,” she announced, “if you’ll excuse us, we’re going into the den to watch the Michigan game.”
Judy shot me a look that would have liquefied rock.
“It’s her idea,” I muttered lamely.
“Enjoy,” Ford said, abstractly.
Diana was already heading in the direction of the house. With one last hopeless look of apology at Judy, met by another lightning bolt, I picked up my plate and followed.
Their den featured a movie-sized screen. “Please sit anywhere,” Diana said, indicating several couches and reclining chairs. She moved over to the bar and turned on the TV with a remote that was sitting on top of it.
“Fix you anything?” she offered, moving behind the bar.
“Maybe just a Perrier. It’s still kind of early,” I said, sitting down on one of the couches as the game burst onto the screen. It was as if she’d already preset the station that carried it.
“I’d call you a wimp,” she said, “but you’re the one in charge today.”
She took down a bottle of Cutty Sark and poured herself a double. It was indeed halftime up on the screen, with Michigan down 13-7. Not good, but not too bad.
“You sure you wouldn’t prefer a Magna Cola?” she asked. “It’s the number-one cola in the world, you know, and it’s bottled locally. I understand they use only the best New York State groundwater.”
“Perrier is fine. And now that you brought it up, I couldn’t help overhearing what your husband was saying. Did they really destroy that town?”
“Ah, yes,” she said, bringing my glass around and depositing it on the side table next to me, “that is indeed the question.” She sat down at the other end of the couch and curled her bare legs beneath her, facing away from the screen and toward me. “You could make the argument that Watahawken, New York, destroyed themselves. They thought that inviting the fox to live next to the henhouse was in their best interest, with jobs and economic expansion and such. People are always acting in their best interest, right up to the moment they destroy themselves.”
The third quarter was starting, and my eyes were drawn to the screen. Michigan was kicking off. The ball settled into the arms of the Illinois kick returner on his own three yard line. Five missed tackles and ninety-seven yards later, he high-stepped into the end zone. I moaned softly.
Diana had not changed her position. She still had her legs curled under her and was looking at me, not the screen. “Ford thinks very highly of your wife,” she said. “You should know that.”
I was still trying to recover from the trauma I’d just witnessed. “That’s great to hear,” I replied automatically.
“Yes,” she said, regarding me with what seemed like amusement, “you should definitely know that.”
Something about it rubbed me the wrong way. I was already kind of upset at the prospect of Michigan getting their asses kicked.
“How did you know I went to Michigan, by the way?” I asked her, the words unintentionally coming out sounding slightly annoyed.
“Just like I know that you’re twenty-eight years old, teach sixth grade at P.S. 67 in Brooklyn, and you’ve been married for five years with no children, although I bet you’ve been trying.” Again, that amused look.
“This is flattering,” I said, forcing myself for the sake of Judy’s career not to be offended, “taking all that trouble to research someone like me.”
She laughed. “It wasn’t any trouble, and I didn’t do it; Ford did. Or rather, one of his staff. But I’m a quick study.”
“Okay, but why bother?”
“Partly,” she said, “because I want to be a good hostess.”
On the big screen, Michigan had just fumbled on their own 30 and Illinois recovered. I winced.
“What else do you know about me?” I asked.
“Oh, lots of things. You’re a big Yankee fan, which is why I assume you’ll want to watch the World Series tonight. You and your dad used to have season tickets, but he died when you were seventeen and your mother gave them up.”
“Boy, you really did do a lot of research.”
“Right, not you,” I said, as the Illinois quarterback lobbed one into the end zone to a waiting receiver, easy as pie.
“Shit!” I yelled, before I could stop myself. “Sorry about that,” I said.
“No, no.” She regarded me with concern. “What happened just now must have been really painful.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. Let’s say I didn’t like it very much.”
“But you should go that far,” she said. “For a moment there, something so bad happened, it made you cry out. You can’t just disregard that.”
“Your dad played football at Michigan, didn’t he?”
I had to smile, even though there was nothing funny about people prying into your life. “You nailed it, doc,” I told her. “My passion for sports is because I’m trying to find my father. How much do I owe you for the session?”
Her serious expression didn’t change. She regarded me from the other end of the couch. “I lost my father when I was a teenager too,” she said, “just like you did.”
“Oh,” I said, “I’m sorry.”
“Unfortunately, in trying to find him, my passion wasn’t for sports. It was for Ford Kingsley.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Even more unfortunately, Ford’s passion was for young women, and it still is. That’s why he’s going to sleep with your wife.”
I thought I couldn’t possibly have heard right.
“Come on,” she said and, suddenly, there were tears in her eyes. “You can’t tell me you haven’t thought of it.”
And, of course, I had. The way Judy talked about him, the near worship she had for him. She never spoke about anyone that way before. But I wasn’t going to admit anything to this woman.
“Judy would never do that,” I said.
“No? Even for a very lucrative career? And the end of one if she didn’t?”
And, actually, I had no idea whether or not she’d do it. Judy was, if nothing else, a pragmatist to my idealist. She could figure things out way ahead and be ready for them. It was why she was such a good lawyer, and I was someone who tries to teach a roomful of kids on Ritalin. I’d always kidded Judy about her ambitions, but what were they, really?
“Why are you telling me this?” I said.
That’s when she started to cry. “I don’t know, Rob; it’s either because she’s the latest one or you’re the last straw.” The tears were running down her cheeks. “I hate him for doing this to me. I hate the way he twists things around until right is wrong and everything is mixed up. Wait, before he’s through, those poor townspeople are going to seem like the greedy bastards and Magna Cola’s going to look like a victim.
“And I hate myself for going along with it, for sharing in all this.” She swept her arm derisively at the sumptuous room we were in and all that lay beyond. “But I can’t help it.” Her eyes seemed to be pleading with me. “I wasn’t always this way. It’s like, little by little, I’ve been giving away my soul.”
Unaware of it, I’d been moving closer to her along the couch. Now she moved closer to me and there we were.
“What am I going to do? How can I live with myself? I…I’m sorry!” She seemed to melt into my arms. I held her, as she wept softly against my shoulder.
“Hey, come on,” I said, feeling incredibly awkward. “Hey, come on.”
And then we were kissing. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it was because this sexy, confident woman had become so scared and helpless, but I wanted her.
And in the back of my mind, I knew I deserved her. My wife was about to have an affair with her husband; there was no doubt about it. I was fooling myself if I thought Judy would make any other choice. And that was as far as I cared to think about it, as we tore off our clothes, fell back onto the couch together, and made desperate, clinging love.
When it was over, I lay there in shock at what I’d just done. She got up and began looking around on the floor for the various parts of her tennis outfit. “Well,” she said, as she gracefully stepped into her shorts, “I did say you could do whatever you wanted.”
I tried to catch my breath while fighting the nausea building up inside my stomach. “What happens now?” I asked her.
She picked up her top from the coffee table. “Oh, I imagine you’ll watch the end of the Michigan game if you can stand it, and I hope the Yankees do better for you tonight. I’ll come in and watch it with you, if you want me to, but, of course, we won’t be doing this again.” She slipped into the top.
“As for Ford, I’m afraid he’ll still sleep with your wife at a time of his choosing, but unfortunately, you’ll have to live with that, knowing what we did just now was captured by the security cameras and is on several hard drives. Aside from that, who can say?”
She picked up her glass of Cutty Sark and finished it off, as whatever breath I’d regained went out of me.
“I lied when I said I hated myself for this lifestyle. I love it and I need it. But I do hate Ford; that part was true. No reflection on you, because you were very good just now, but I’m getting tired of doing this sort of thing for him.”
She moved toward the door. “I hope Michigan rallies, but if it becomes too much, the library is in the next room and you’re welcome to use it. If you need anything at all, just ask any member of the household staff and they’ll get it for you. It might sound grotesque at this point, but make yourself at home.”
She blew me a kiss and left me sitting there.
“I thought it went very well,” Judy said, as she inched the Mercedes forward in the Long Island Expressway traffic. “This case looks very winnable, and I’m going to be an important part of it.”
“Great,” I said dully, as I gazed empty-eyed at the minivan next to us, the little kids making faces at me through the window.
“You’ve been unusually quiet,” she observed. “Did all that sports watching wear you out? I thought they were extremely gracious, by the way, to let you do it. But they didn’t seem to mind, thank God, so I guess we both got what we came for.”
“That we did,” I said.
She reached over, put her hand on top of my thigh, and gave it a little squeeze. “Thank you for doing this for me, honey. I know Ford and Diana aren’t your type of people, but I think they really liked you.”
“Are they your type of people?” I asked.
She gave my thigh another little squeeze. “You’re my type of people,” she said. “Don’t you know that by now?”
I wondered. About that and about what type of people I am, after all.
And as I sit here in our apartment at 2 a.m., watching ESPN Classics and waiting for her to come home from yet another strategy session with Ford Kingsley, I still wonder.