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Authors: Tiffanie DeBartolo

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BOOK: God-Shaped Hole
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TEN

Jacob lived in a building that, when it rained, smelled like worms. We decided to live at my place until the lease was up, then we had bigger plans.

“This prison holds not our destiny,” Jacob said, shaking his head in a momentary fit of impatience. He wasn’t referring to our apartment, but to Los Angeles County and all of its surrounding areas, and he repeated the very same conviction every day when he came home from work, worn out by the traffic nightmare that was the 10 freeway.

“We have to escape as soon as we get the chance,
n’est pas
?”


Oui
,” I said.

And thus began our obsession: we were going to leave California.

“The
minute
I sell the book,” Jacob said.

We had no idea when that was going to happen. He had to finish it first. But if and when it did get published, we resolved, once and for all, to defect. It became what we lived for. It fueled our days, it pacified our nights. It kept us driving down the congested highways when all we wanted to do was pull over and fly away. To finally cross the state line and not look back would be our renaissance. I told Jacob that we didn’t have to wait. I had enough money. Between my income and my trust fund, we could live comfortably for a long time.

“We can go now,” I said. “We can buy that little house with a porch. You can finish the book there. I’ll make jewelry and learn how to bake pies, and we’ll have sweaty sex whenever we want.”

Jacob sighed. “I could never let you do that. I need to be able to support myself. You understand that, right?”

Of course I understood. The man had integrity. It was admirable as hell. But it meant our dreams would have to wait.

The day he officially moved in, Jacob didn’t have much to bring over. Almost all of his clothes were already in my apartment. Besides his sparse wardrobe, he had a few boxes of books, his music collection, an old Steel Case desk and his computer. Pete helped him haul everything in. He teased Jacob about co-habitating with a television.

“It’s not mine,” Jacob said.

“Just count how often he watches it,” Pete begged me.

Jacob and I were unpacking in the office, and Pete was just about to walk out the door when somebody knocked.

“I’ll get it,” Pete said.

I figured it was Sara picking him up, until I heard the discordant shrill of my mother’s voice. Pete said hi to her and she asked him, in the most embarrassingly indignant way, if this was still Beatrice Jordan’s apartment and, if so, who was he. Of course it was still my fucking apartment, Mom, and did I forgot to tell you, I’m living with two men now. We all sleep together and we’re going to have babies and start a commune and what on earth will you tell your friends?

I know that’s exactly what she was thinking.

“Shit,” I whispered, “it’s my mother.”

Jacob’s face became effervescent. “Cool,” he said, and headed for the door. I ran in front of him.

“Mom,” I said, “what are you doing here?”

Her thin lips formed the shape of an artificial smile, which caused her frosted, perfectly coiffed, chin-length bob to rise up as a unit. The expression on her tanned face said she was relieved to see me. She eyed Pete, then Jacob. “Beatrice, is this a bad time?”

She always asked me that, every time she showed up, which she did the third Sunday of every month, when she would come down from Santa Barbara to go shopping and have dinner with my brother and his family. I’d forgotten what day it was, otherwise I would have been conveniently absent from the apartment.

“Actually, it is kind of a bad time,” I said.

Pete exited as fast as he could. My mother, meanwhile, inspected my coffee table. She asked if it was new.

“It’s not new, I just painted it,” I said.

“You painted it black, Beatrice?”

The table was clearly black, so unless she’d gone color-blind in the last thirty days, I didn’t know why she was asking.

“Mom, this is Jacob. Jacob, meet Diane.” I knew she was going to ask, so I beat her to the punch. “Jacob and I met a couple weeks ago. He’s moving in today. Isn’t that great?”

She looked Jacob up and down. I was pretty certain her immediate impression of him would be unfavorable. He looked poor, and she didn’t like poor people. Especially if I happened to be sleeping with them.

“I didn’t know you were seeing anybody, Bea.”

Jacob took my mother’s hand with both of his and greeted her just like he’d done when I first met him. He immediately engaged her in conversation and asked her if she wanted some coffee.

“No, thank you,” she said. She was so uptight I thought a cork might pop out of her ass.

“Oh, sure you do, come on,” Jacob said, still holding her hand. He dragged her into the kitchen while her eyes darted all over the place, I’m sure to see what she could pick on next. She always picked on something when she came over. She thought my apartment was small and shabby, even though the rent was astronomical. She found it preposterous that I didn’t hire a decorator, and, in her opinion, hardwood was tacky if you could afford carpet. She was wearing her weight in gold, which was the reason I refused to work with that particular metallic element, and I could smell her signature three squirts of Chanel No. 19 from where I stood. It made me want to regurgitate my lunch directly into her brand new designer clutch. I resented the fact that she was in my house and that she was, I suspected, judging Jacob, when she didn’t know him and could never in a million lifetimes understand what he was all about.

Jacob and my mother came out of the kitchen a few minutes later with cups in their hands. My mother stared at me like she knew something I didn’t. I swear I saw her smirk. And she looked completely disarmed, wandering around, making small talk—mostly with Jacob—until she finished her coffee. Then she picked up her bag and went to the door.

“Well, Beatrice, I must say, you’ve found yourself a charming young man.”

If I’d been standing when she said that, I guarantee I would have fallen over. I can tell when my mother is being patronizing, and I can tell when she’s telling the truth. She meant it. I didn’t know what Jacob had spiked her coffee with, but whatever it was, it had taken hold.

“I guess we’ll see you tonight,” she said on her way out.

“Tonight? What do you mean?” I said.

“You’re joining us at your brother’s for dinner. Jacob said you would.”

I looked at Jacob. He gave me a wide, gaping smile, like he’d put itching powder down my pants and was waiting for me to start scratching.

“Fuck you,” I whispered to him behind my mother’s back.

“Mrs. Jordan,” he said, “your daughter has quite a foul mouth, do you know that?”

“Yes, I know. Now don’t be late tonight. Beatrice has a tendency to be late for family functions.” She took Jacob aside. “Why don’t you ask her to fix her hair and put on something nice. She can be so pretty when she tries.”

It was a good thing I didn’t own a gun.

As soon as my mother was safe inside the elevator, I hurled a pillow in the direction of Jacob’s head. He caught it just as it sideswiped his ear, then he threw it back at me. I ducked, and he tackled me onto the couch. He tried to kiss my neck but I was too distracted to keep still.

“Now do you see how she is? That’s what I was talking about. She just shows up here, barely says hello. She didn’t even kiss me or anything. She was nicer to you than she was to me. I haven’t seen her in weeks and she treated me like I was her garbage man.”

“I think you’re a little hard on her. She needs to be placated, that’s all.” He was trying to unbutton my shirt.

“Jacob, did you
fuck
her in the kitchen or what? I mean what the hell was that all about? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you are not the kind of man she would normally take to.”

“I give off good vibes,” he said. “Kids, dogs, and middle-aged divorcées like me.”

“I’ll bet they do.”

“You don’t give her enough credit. At least she was here. At least she tries.”

“Whatever,” I said. “Let’s just do it and forget about her.”

ELEVEN

My younger brother, Cole, was off in Washington D.C. finishing up law school. Last time I’d talked to him he had political aspirations. My older brother, Chip, the one we had the pleasure of dining with, is a hot-shot film producer. He lucked out with a small-time action flick that ended up making millions at the box office and, consequently, scored a five-picture deal with Warner Bros. He thinks his shit smells like daisies because of it. I’d bet a g-note his shit smells more like month-old chili con carne.

Chip is fat; has black, greasy hair; and a black mole on his chin where a lone black whisker grows. He lives in the posh neighborhood of Holmby Hills with his wife, Elise, who is not fat, and his son, Chad, who is also not yet fat but has the propensity. Their twelve-thousand square-foot, Tudor-inspired abode is right down the street from the Playboy mansion.

I usually made it a point to only see Chip on holidays, and Thanksgiving was still over six months away. I cursed Jacob the entire drive to Chip’s house. Jacob found my anxiety wholly amusing. I think he saw it as writing fodder. To Jacob, everything was writing fodder.

My mother’s car was in the driveway when we pulled in. That meant we were late, even though we were ten minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival time. I gave Jacob one last chance to back out. He stepped in front of me and rang the bell.

Every time I walked into Chip’s house, the formality of it made me feel like I was walking onto the set of
Dynasty
. I expected Linda Evans to swoop down the brass staircase and give me a coquettish little smile, like the one she gave in the TV show’s intro. Instead, Elise answered the door for us. Elise was a petite blond, with lips pumped full of collagen. She was one of those failed actresses—the cutest, most popular girl from the Midwestern town she came from, who moved to Hollywood after high school expecting to become the world’s next great thespian, but just ended up contributing another dime to the dozen. Elise never even got as far as hooking herself an agent, but as luck would have it, she met Chip at The Whiskey Bar one fateful evening. I guess she figured he was her best ticket out of the ant-infested, two-room bungalow she shared with a couple of bargain-basement strippers.

Chip ruled Elise’s life. He instructed her how to talk, how to dress, and which charities she could support. I had a strong, ever-present notion to tell her to kick Chip in the balls and stand up for herself, but if she didn’t mind, I figured it wasn’t my business to do so. I got along okay with Elise. She was no Rhodes scholar, but she was nice; she called me the black sheep of the family and meant it as a compliment.

“Beatrice! I’m so glad you came,” she said. “And you must be Jacob. Diane told us all about you. We hear you’re a writer.”

They probably had his social security number and shoe size, too.

My mother appeared from behind the door, took Jacob by the elbow, and with Chad in tow, gave him a tour of the house. Jacob couldn’t have cared less about the damn house, but he appeased her nonetheless, pretending he was enthralled. While the three of them walked the grounds, Elise took me up to her closet to show me one of the new dresses she’d been given for an upcoming movie premiere. The garment was long, red, skin-tight, and had a strange green stitching around the neck and hem. It looked like a bloodstained mermaid, but I didn’t have the heart to tell that to Elise; she was so riveted by it. She wanted to know if I would make her a bracelet and necklace to match.

“With star sapphires,” she said. “I don’t care how much they cost, I just want my accessories to be as unique as this dress.”

“It’ll be a challenge,” I said. “But I’m sure I can whip something up.”

Chip and Elise had a cook and a servant, and we ate in the dining room on the good china: roasted chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, romaine lettuce with rosemary vinaigrette, and fancy Italian wine. Jacob told Chip it was the best wine he’d ever had, and my brother immediately went off on a ten minute-long tangent about the year it was bottled, the region it came from, how rare it was, and how much the local hot spots charged for it when you ordered it there.

“I ship it in, right from Chianti,” Chip said, mistakenly assuming he was impressing Jacob. “You’re only allowed to bring in a certain number of bottles a year, you know, so consider yourself lucky.” Chip’s gruff, I’m-better-than-you snort shook the table. Jacob laughed along with Chip in a fake,
Great Gatsby
, old-money sort of voice, obviously mocking my brother. I was the only one who picked up on it, and I had to put my napkin in front of my mouth to hide my amusement. When Jacob took another gulp of his wine, I had visions of him squirting it like a fountain through his teeth. I’d seen him do that in the shower—he had quite a projectile range. I was disappointed when he swallowed.

Dessert was a heavenly concoction of ginger-flavored crème brûlée—the highlight of the evening—and I contemplated sneaking a ramekin of it into my purse—an idea motivated by the quick fantasy I had that centered around my new roommate spreading it all over my body, then licking it off. The way in which Jacob slowly lapped it from his spoon told me he was thinking the same thing.

We were having coffee and brandy in the living room when my mother asked Jacob about his family.

“Tell us more about the Graces,” she said.

I was about to order her not to pry into his life when Jacob cut me off and proceeded to give my mother a spiel I didn’t follow at all. Apparently when he’d told her his last name that afternoon, she’d asked him what his father’s first name was. He said Thomas, and my mother assumed that meant his father’s name was Thomas Grace. What she didn’t know was that Jacob went by his mother’s last name. He was no relation to this Thomas Grace guy, a man whose social calendar my mother followed by reading
Town and Country
and
W
. Evidently, Thomas Grace was some big Internet mogul, owned a Renoir, attended every important gala in New York City,
and
had been recently divorced.

“Where is Thomas Grace now?” my mother asked Jacob.

“Oh, he’s off on his yacht, cruising around the Greek isles for the next few months,” Jacob said.

He was making the whole damn thing up, of course, and I assumed I finally knew why my mother liked him so much. She thought he was a dot-com kid. She thought I’d hit the jackpot.

“Why did you do that?” I asked Jacob on our way home.

“It was funny,” he said.

“It was not funny.”

“Then why are you laughing?”

I tried to curtail my level of entertainment. “How am I going to explain this to her, Jacob? Now she really is going to hate you.”

“Tell her my father and I had a falling out and we don’t speak anymore. That’s not exactly a lie. By this time next year, we’ll be gone and she’ll never know the difference.”

“Oh, yes she will. You don’t know my mother. She’s going to hound you until you invite her to the weekend spread in the Hamptons, trust me on this. And what if she meets your mother some day?”

“My mother will go along with it. She’s a good sport.”

I couldn’t wait to meet Jacob’s mother.

“I’m going to have to call her tomorrow and tell her the truth,” I said.

“Why do you have to burst her bubble?” He was still chuckling.

“Jacob, I’m serious.”

“This from a woman who once told a lover that her parents helped put Nelson Mandela in prison.”

“The reason I told him that was because I wasn’t planning on him being around long enough for it to matter and—” I froze. That thought gave me pause: what if this whole thing—what if I—was a big joke to Jacob? What if he was the best actor in the universe and I meant nothing to him? What if he had no intention of taking me any further south than Anaheim?

Jacob knew what I was thinking. He looked my way to try and get a reading on my expression, and almost swerved into the median.

“Watch the road, Slick.”

“Do you think I think that?” he said. “Trixie, answer me. Do you think you won’t be around long enough for it to matter?”

I didn’t say anything. I just tried to look mopey.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said. “Look behind me.”

I reached under his seat and found something wrapped in aluminum foil. It was a dish of crème brûlée.

“Jacob, did you steal this?”

He howled. “No! God, ye of little faith. Elise gave it to me. I told her it was our first official night living together, that we wanted to celebrate. She thought it was romantic.”

It was. It was fucking romantic as all hell. And I was an idiot.

Jacob called my mother the next day. He apologized to her and confessed that he was from Pasadena.

“I’m nothing but trailer trash,” he said with pride.

He gave my mother the whole rigamarole about how his father deserted him when he was a baby, probably for sympathy points. And he kissed up to her a little more by claiming he only said he was related to Thomas Grace because of me.

“What you think is really important to Beatrice,” he said. “She just wanted you to like me.”

When he got off the phone, he said my mother laughed and thanked him for telling her the truth. She was still being nice to him.

“Her doctor must have her back on Valium,” I said.

BOOK: God-Shaped Hole
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