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Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies 17


  “You throw pages at me and I’ll do my thing in ’em and we’ll get a round robin going. Bang these babies out by the end of the summer. Make the rounds and pitch ’em when the kiddies go back to school. Sound good?”

  “I can get started right away,” I say.

  He winks. We’re both aware that this partnership is a bit corrupt. But what union isn’t inherently uneven in some way? I don’t know any perfect couples, true partners who share the load equally.

  He asks me to hand him a bottle of codeine that’s on the floor and it’s disgusting in here, Taco Bell wrappers and muddy bottles of Sprite, Fanta. Forty is a fuck-up—drug dependent, living in a past that wasn’t even his in the first place. When we’re featured in Variety, I’ll be the hot one and he’ll be the other one.

  He sips his medicated Fanta and starts the car. We might die on the way back to The Aisles. But we also might live. We’re singing along to the fucking Eagles when we take the sharp left into the estate.

  Forty hits the brakes and lowers the volume. “One thing,” he says. “My parents are Quakers about my gaming. They call it gambling, as if I’m a sorority girl from Pennsylvania who can’t count cards. So let’s not mention my score.”

  “Deal,” I say.

  “One more thing,” he says, and I hate when people do that. He pours the rest of his lean onto the grassy sand and I imagine the squirrels stoned. “If you hurt my sister, I’ll fucking kill you.”

  It’s the first time I respect him. We pull up the driveway and half the cars are gone. We missed most of the party and Milo fell asleep on a chaise longue and he’s an ugly sleeper—another win.

  Forty goes to his bungalow and I go to Love’s. The upstairs bedroom is a dream, a topsy-turvy place with a sodded terrace. Love says they copied it from a resort in Maui. I walk outside because I have never stood on grass in the sky and she asks me to come to bed.

  “Forty got cut from True Detective.” She breathes me in. “You smell like a taco.”

  “Guilty,” I say.

  “It’s really great of you to go with the flow,” she says. “Forty gets bummed when he gets cut and I feel like if you weren’t here he might have disappeared to Vegas or something. Thank you.”

  “He’s a good dude.”

  She kisses me. “I think he needs a break from it,” she says. “That stupid business is poisoning him and he should just be here this summer, not trying to cast that thing that’s not even done.”

  I squeeze her hand. “So, let’s do it. Let’s stay.”

  “What about your job?” she asks.

  I tell her I’m selling more valuable books on my own than I am at the store. I can set up a PO Box and form an LLC and go for it. Love is thrilled for me and says I can borrow an old Prius no one uses anymore so I can hit estate sales and stock up on merchandise. I love that she thinks this is a wonderful idea and I love that she does not use the phrase yard-sale-ing. She kisses me. She straddles me and I live here now, in Malibu, in Love. Hunting season is over. I will not think of Amy. I will not worry about Amy. I will not beat myself up. Now it’s time to rest. That’s what you do when you find love. Amy couldn’t. I can. I’m the lucky one, not her.

  26

  TWO weeks into the Summer of Love and there’s only one time of day I dread. Tennis time! You have to understand, I am living in a dream world. Every morning begins with Love riding my dick. After we fuck, I put on one of the new shirts I bought at the stupid expensive stores on Abbot Kinney in Venice and drive to Intelligentsia and buy an overpriced coffee. I sit with my back against the wall of this coliseum-style coffee shop, so austere, so clean, so California cold that you never see anybody smiling and you get dirty looks for ordering iced coffee.

  I go back and forth between working on The Mess and The Third Twin and then, around lunchtime, I mail books if I have inventory that moved. Then, every day at four P.M., I wish for rain so I can get out of tennis time! I suck at tennis. My forehand is too big and the balls go soaring over the fence. My one-handed backhand never makes contact. My two-handed backhand makes Forty piss his madras shorts. Sometimes Milo is here, calling out, Loosen your grip, kid. And sometimes Love walks all the way around to my side of the court as if I’m a fucking child.

  Today it’s just me and Love because Love’s parents have gone to Europe and Forty and Milo are out on the Donzi. Love is feeding me balls and I am missing them or whacking them to China and finally we decide to just walk on the beach.

  “Okay,” she says when we reach the water. “I just need to say that I know you hate tennis but you wouldn’t hate it so much if you actually tried to get better. And I love you but you are stubborn and I’ve never seen anyone refuse to get better at something. You need to make an effort.”

  I look at her. I heard all of it. She’s right. And buried in there, in the middle of all her earnest frustration, there were three little words. She didn’t mean to say it. I mean I have been feeling it, the love, but I wouldn’t say it either, not this early. We’ve only had two weeks. And yet in two weeks we have built a thing between us, a bridge, a shorthand, and I never had this with anyone. Amy and I had sex and heat. Beck dangled a carrot and I bit. But Love and I grow the carrots, peel them, and eat them together.

  “Look!” she cries, pointing to a dolphin out in the ocean. “Did you see it?”

  “Yeah,” I say. “I see it. And don’t worry. I got a gun.”

  She bursts out laughing and falls back onto the sand and I laugh too and she rolls onto her side, giggling, and I smack her ass, payback, and that’s all it takes with Love, one joke, one smack and she’s slipping out of her little skirt and climbing onto me and pulling me out of my shorts and holding my head by the temples and looking into my eyes, close.

  “Are you deaf?” she asks.

  “No,” I say. “I was being nice.”

  “Well, don’t be,” she says.

  “Okay. I love you too,” I say.

  She kisses me as my cock delves into her and we are perfect together and I am better for knowing her and I’m still convinced that there’s a special department in heaven where they build vaginas and if you’re lucky like I am, one day you happen upon the one that was built for you. I tell her this when we finish, when we’re lying there on the sand.

  “You should write,” she says. “You say some good weird shit sometimes.”

  I want to tell her that I do write but it can wait. “Thanks,” I say. “Maybe I will.”

  She nudges me. I turn to her. She smiles. “You realize you still have to get back out on the court, right?”

  Yes, the Summer of Love is a dream. My skin is glowing thanks to Henderson’s products and fucking Love. My screenplays are coming together. Forty and I meet at Taco Bell every couple of days to talk about “our work.” He reads, he raves, and then he tells me the buzz he’s building.

  I really am proud of myself that I’m finally on a true vacation. You can’t even call the screenwriting work; I love it too much. I’m better at tennis after Love’s big lecture and I almost think it’s a good thing that she won’t suck my dick because if she did, I might become so happy that I wouldn’t be me anymore.

  The Corinthians are right and Love is patient. We go horseback riding and I don’t know how to ride a fucking horse so here we are again, Love teaching me.

  “Robert Redford is a good learning horse,” she says.

  “Robert Redford?” I ask, and her mom named all their horses.

  Love says it’s a miracle they’re not all named Robert Redford. “My mom is kind of obsessed with him,” she explains.

  We trot along and now she wants to know how I lost my virginity and I tell her to go first.

  “It was with Milo,” she says. “We were staying on his family’s boat and were docked at Wianno Club and the three of us, me and Forty and Milo, we used to sneak out and steal the flags off the golf course.” That’s why he’s always wearing those shirts, Martha’s Vineyard, yacht clubs, all that cocky pink and green.
“And then one night, Milo was like, let’s hide from Forty and freak him out. And then, you know, and it was terrible and it hurt and did I mention that it hurt?” She gazes upward and all the pain in her life, she’s found a way to process all of it. “And then Forty got nailed for stealing all the flags.” She laughs, and of course the three of them collectively refer to that night as the night they all got nailed and I am so happy I grew up poor and that there is nothing so cute about my coming of age. Love elbows me. “I showed you mine,” she says. “Your turn.”

  “Well,” I say. “I was having dinner at Chateau Marmont and this waitress came up to me with a piece of paper.”

  She smacks me. “That’s not funny.”

  I shrug.

  She pats my leg. “When you’re ready,” she says. “No rush.” We are quiet together. Like I said, Love is patient.

  Love is kind. We ditch plans to go to a ceremony in Culver City where Love is supposed to get an award because Milo calls from Commerce Casino. Forty trashed a room and they’re holding him.

  “Can’t Milo take care of it?” I ask. And I worry about my business partner, but at the same time, this is what I expect from Hollywood.

  Love says it’s better we go. “Why?” I ask.

  Her eyes well with tears. “Because with Forty, you have to step in or people get sick of him,” she says. It’s a long drive to Commerce. It’s ugly in Commerce. It’s not glamorous. It’s vinyl. I watch Love stay up holding her brother all night. He’s a blubbering mess. She tells him it’s okay. When he realizes this was the night of her award, she tells him it’s okay.

  “They canceled it, honey bunny,” she says. Her voice is aloe vera. “I didn’t miss anything. Try and sleep.”

  The next morning, on the way back to Malibu, I worry that Love is a better person than I am. I am quiet and grumpy and pick a fight about Milo, the fact that he’s texting her, that he’s at the Aisles waiting for us to get home.

  “Joe,” Love says. “I can’t ever get mad at anyone for needing a break from Forty, okay? Milo is here because we need him. Because I need him. Please don’t be jealous. He’s dating a really nice girl named Lorelai right now and you have nothing to worry about.”

  “I’m not jealous.”

  “Look,” she says. “Forty is drawn to everything bad. It’s like whether it’s people or writing or his drugs or anything, you know, he has the worst instincts of anyone. I don’t know what’s gonna happen to him.”

  I want so badly to tell her that Forty is going to be fine because he’s discovered a talented writer. I want to tell her that I am The Third Twin and that she makes me want to be kind too. I know we’ll have to take care of Forty. I know he’s never going to get by on his own. I know he’s insecure and unhappy and negative. And I see the way Love cares for him.

  “Listen,” I say. “I know you keep putting off going to Phoenix and visiting the charity volunteer coordinators. Why don’t you go tonight? I’ll hang with Forty.”

  Love smiles and texts Milo to go home and she mounts me when we get back to the Aisles. She doesn’t wait until we park. She presses on my leg for me to brake and she attacks me in the car, in the driveway. She thanks me for staying with Forty and I tell her it’s no big deal and she raises her eyebrows. “It’s Thursday,” she cautions me. “It’s summer.”

  Love was right. Forty is demanding and drunk at Matthew McConaughey’s, where nobody really wants to say hi to him. He is rude to a bartender who’s doing the best she can. I apologize to her when she’s on her break and she says it’s totally cool.

  “Dude,” she says. “You look spent.”

  I tell her about Forty and she does that California thing where she waits for her turn to talk and then tells me her name is Monica and she’s housesitting in a place near the Aisles and bartending and surfing. She asks me if I surf and it’s a question that offends me but I don’t even get to finish the boring conversation because the other bartender is tapping my shoulder.

  “Are you the one with the wasted friend?”

  That’s me, and my wasted friend is looking for me. The surfing girl bartender tells me to lighten up. “Try and find the fun,” she says. “It’s, like, all you can do.”

  The Californian refusal to accept that sometimes things just fucking suck—like getting into the car with high Forty and making our next stop an S&M hooker who lives on a ranch up in Topanga. I sit on a couch near too many dogs barking and try not to listen to him fuck her or call her Mommy. It is the darkest, longest night of my life and knowing that Love has had countless nights like this makes me love her so much more. A lot of girls, they would have left by now.

  When I have to drag him out of his Spyder and into his house, his slumbering body is so dense and unresponsive that I worry he might be dead. But he isn’t and something has to change. I need to find a babysitter for this kid, someone who will put up with his shit, someone mellow and needy.

  The next day, while he sleeps it off and my girlfriend teaches the children to Swim for Love in Phoenix, I prowl the beach looking for the bartender who told me to find the fun. She’s where she said she would be, on all fours, scrubbing her stupid board. She’s different when she’s off-duty, more stripperish, with one of those decorative bandanas wrapped around her head and a necklace glistening around her waist. Her body parts are taut and brown; she is a stereotypical LA girl and she’s too hot for Forty, but anyone who gets this dressed up to scrub a surfboard is blank and hungry. She looks over her shoulder constantly. She’s perfect. I go to her. I wave.

  27

  AS Love says, Monica might be the most chill girl in the world and I’m so glad I recruited her. Monica is unflappable and calm. As Love says, you could punch her in the face and she would just keep smiling. She eases into a relationship with Forty automatically, which means Love and I are off the hook. Monica is super common, with brown hair that is always parted on the left and bangs that fall into her eyes, bangs she is constantly fingering, licking, pushing aside. I want to take a razor and shave them the fuck off but I would never do any such thing. Monica is my savior, Forty’s pacifier. He pets her. He likes her consistency. He tries to talk to me about her open mind in the sack but I tell him I don’t want to know about her lack of nerve endings. I’m still trying to forget what he said last week: “You can pee on her, Old Sport! On her face!”

  Monica is a severe Californian, a Beach Boys kind of girl who smiles all the time and follows Forty around trying to get him to drink coconut water. I picture her alone in the middle of the night cutting her inner thighs, but it’s possible that I’m wrong, that some people are just free of demons. She is always exactly the same and she doesn’t bloat or get moody or crave burritos instead of sushi. Everything is chill and one night we are all nestled on floats in the pool, watching a movie outside—this is how it is here, you live in an Esquire spread and you are the star—and Love gasps.

  “It just hit me,” she says. “We’re Friends. You guys, you’re Monica and Chandler and we’re Rachel and Ross.”

  Monica hasn’t ever seen a whole episode of Friends but she says that sounds cool and Forty says he stopped listening to Love talk about Friends several years ago and I dive off my float and swim over to Love and let her celebrate her epiphany.

  Love’s parents go off to Europe and Milo goes off with his Lorelai chick who lives in Echo Park, and Forty hires a housesitter to cover for Monica, which means she’s here all the time. These are the last four weeks of summer and we couple up and do things, big things. We take a helicopter to Catalina and we hop a jet to Vegas and we eat in the pool and we swim in the pool and Monica brings home veggies from the farmers’ market and Love calls them vegetables and I wish this was it, indefinite.

  But then Robert Frost wasn’t fucking around and there is a new nip in the air, an increasingly noticeable one. The beach isn’t quite as densely crowded as it was yesterday and motherfuckers at Intelligentsia are starting to trickle in wearing scarves. It’s a sign. There is change a
head. Our heavenly summer is going to end.

  The days are getting shorter and Love is wrapped up in blankets, looking at Boots and Puppies online but now there are actual boxes of boots arriving every day, piling up in the kitchen, in the bedroom, on our grass patio. Love tears into the boxes and tries on the boots but she doesn’t wear them, the way she doesn’t adopt any actual puppies.

  She says this is her favorite time of year, when she puts “Boys of Summer” on all the Pantry playlists. I remind her that it’s kind of absurd in California, where it’s not going to start snowing. She looks at me and tells me I’m getting a little red. She is critical lately. I tell her I already put on lotion and the sun doesn’t feel as strong. There’s friction between us now that wasn’t here a day ago and I don’t know if I’m a summer fling.

  “Joe,” she says. “You need to put on more lotion.”

  “I really think I’m okay.”

  She rolls her eyes. “But you’re not,” she says. “The sun stays strong here.”

  “I’m fine,” I insist.

  An hour later, I am a fool. I am crisp and cold and hot and burnt and my skin has been destroyed. She doesn’t say I told you so but she does cross her arms and wear a floppy hat. We move to the shaded area of the pool and she says if I had put on the lotion I wouldn’t have gotten burned. I did put on the fucking lotion but clearly someone left it out in the sun and all the protective power of it was destroyed. I am not going to fight with her. This is the Summer of Love and I have to believe in the Fall of Love even though it has an ominous tone. I look at Forty, asleep in the chair; Monica is inside getting ready, as if you need to get ready to lie by the fucking pool.

  “Too hard,” I say when Love rubs aloe on my red shoulders.

  “Sorry,” she says, and she lightens her touch but that hurts too and I flinch. “Joe,” she says. “Maybe you should do this yourself.”