Chapter 1 1
EVERYBODY WANTED TO BE FAMOUS. The screenwriters, the directors, the musicians, the poets, the playwrights, the comedians: they all wanted fame, but the actors wanted it most of all. They wanted fame so bad it pained them in their hearts when they tried to fall asleep at night. It was like the thought of not getting famous killed them, or like the way they longed for it was a sort of murder, but of themselves, and if they didn’t get famous, they might die right there in their beds.
It was that kind of school.
Molly took the elevator down to the dining hall. She’d only ten minutes earlier broken up with her high school boyfriend, Luke, over the phone. She felt bad about this, but not as bad as she had been feeling. She’d slept with other people, but in no practical universe could you call this cheating. She was nineteen. It was a question of experience, of whether or not she would make good on a promise to herself to chop off the old, dead parts and come out new, to burn them off, if need be, like she was a house fire. Hers was a deep sensation. Some afternoons, light would fall on her through a window in the library, a single ray through a single pane that found her as she lifted her head up from a book. The light was God or the future. The same was true for certain odd or even numbers, or for the experience of déjà vu: these were signs, messages designed to inform her she was among the chosen. She could not help but feel this way.
In the elevator, she glanced up at the numbers going 5, 4, 3, 2. Beside the read-out, up near the ceiling, someone had graffitied in black Magic Marker Mmmmm… Molly Bit.
“That’s hot,” Rosanna Archer said. “That’s good advertising.”
“Good advertising for what?” Molly asked.
“For you,” Rosanna said. “For your sexy actress life.”
They were seated across from each other at a booth in the dining hall. Rosanna was from LA. She was six feet tall with long, wavy hair the color of a crow. Out the window, snowy gusts of ice and fog screamed down Tremont Street. It hadn’t snowed in four days. It was only the wind. It was psychotic in that part of the city. It plucked snow and trash and lost gloves and hats from off the tops of drifts and whipped the mess around. Molly watched a baby-less stroller cartwheel across the street and slam into the front door of O’Malley’s.
“What the hell am I doing here?” Rosanna asked.
“Seriously,” Molly said. “Why aren’t we in California?”
“Everything is better in California,” Rosanna said. “Waking up is better in California. Going to bed is better in California. The parties are better. The drugs. The weather. The people. It’s all better. You have to come visit me over break. We’ll get wasted on the beach. Do you realize how totally incredible that would be? How totally awesome?”
“I know,” Molly said. But she didn’t know. She’d never been to California. She’d been to two places: Vermont, where she was from, and now Boston. This was the sum total. There was no possible way she could afford a trip to California.
“It’s gonna be the best,” Rosanna said.
All of Molly’s friends were rich. All of them. They were so rich they didn’t even know. Rosanna’s parents were in advertising, but not the marketing or the creative sides. They did something else. Something with the money. They lived in the Palisades, wherever that was, and kept another home in Malibu. Molly’s father was a soil tester. He drove around Vermont and dug holes in the ground for a living. Her stepfather paid for her tuition. The rest, her living money, was student loans.
“Thanks for the swipe.”
“No problem. I’ve got a ton of meals left on my card,” Rosanna said. “We should give them out to the homeless later. I wanna feed that guy with the frog voice. ‘Spare any change?’ Or that dude who rides his tricycle down Newbury Street. I think he’s sort of cute. I like the way he rings his little bell.”
Half the students had gone home for winter break already. The dining hall felt empty, but that was only in comparison to the usual mob scene. There were dorms on Arlington and Beacon, but everybody ate on Boylston, in Molly’s building. She saw Greg Watson reading by himself at one of the long tables. She gave him a small wave, but he was the nervous type, and he pretended like he hadn’t seen her.
“Why are you saying hi to that guy?” Rosanna asked. “He’s bald.”
“He’s nice. He’s my friend.”
“Are you sleeping with him?”
“No. I’m not,” Molly said. “We’re in Short Story together. He’s a writer. He’s good.”
Her own stories were terrible, Molly knew. All of her protagonists were small-town girls let loose in the big city. Nothing would happen to them for pages and pages, and then they’d cry. In workshop, Greg said her dialogue was good.
“Who would do that?” Rosanna asked. “Why would someone write something they knew was never going to make any money? People are starving to death out there, and this guy’s writing short stories. It makes me sick.”
Rosanna wanted to be a producer. Or she was, Molly guessed. In Rosanna’s life, and in the way she spoke of it, the present and the future had achieved a unified chronology. She was who she would be: powerful, demanding, impatient.
“Where is Eric?” Rosanna asked, forking a gelatinous wobble of scrambled egg into her mouth. “That’s what I’d like to know.”
“He called me at four in the morning,” Molly said.
“How did he sound?”
“Stimulated,” Molly said. “He kept referring to himself as a ‘coke genius.’ He said it like a hundred times.”
Greg stood up from his table. Out of the corner of her eye, Molly saw him look in her direction. She didn’t look back. A seriousness had overtaken her.
“He said he was close to being done with the edit.”
“Close-close. Like done.”
“I despise him,” Rosanna said. “I’m finished with Eric. If it wasn’t for the festival tonight I’d never talk to him again.”
There were an endless number of short film festivals at the college. The New Voices, The Senior Showcase, The Gay and Lesbian, The Underground, The Experimental, The Comedy, The For Women Only, The African American, The East Asian, The Documentary, The Jewish Diaspora, The Left of Center. Eric and Rosanna’s submission was for The New Horizons Short Film Festival. The NHSFF was considered to be the most prestigious film festival on campus by virtue of it having an actual “Best Of” category. Eric was the film’s director, Rosanna its producer, and Molly its star.
“If he screws me on this, I’m gonna screw him back,” Rosanna said. “And not the way you do.”
This was a low blow. Molly and Eric had slept together numerous times, yes, but she felt gross about it, and because she felt gross about it, she didn’t think Rosanna, or anyone, should mention it at all. Instead, her friends should pretend like it hadn’t happened. That’s what she did.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you do,” Rosanna said. “He better get it down here by two, is all I’m saying. He thinks he’s Soderbergh, but he’s not Soderbergh. I know Soderbergh, and Eric Os isn’t Soderbergh.”
“We’ve got our Movement final in an hour,” Molly said. “He’ll be there.”
“Why do you have a final in Movement?” Rosanna asked. “What could that final possibly be? What do you do? Have a seizure?”
We move, Molly wanted to explain. Her final was to perform the life cycle of a woman, from birth to death, in three minutes. She’d been rehearsing for weeks. The piece involved six other people and a rocking chair. It was complicated. Everyone at school liked to laugh at the way the actors prepared. They enjoyed the end results—the plays, the scenes, the movies—but all the work that went on beforehand registered with them as silly. It wasn’t hard to understand why. Most people were afraid of their bodies, Molly knew. They also weren’t crazy about someone who openly spoke about feelings, especially if those feelings belonged to other, imaginary people. Molly tried not to hold it against them, although she often failed.
“Don’t be mad,” Rosanna said.
“I’m not mad.”
“Yes, you are. Your face is like a sign that says, ‘I Am Going to Cut Your Head Off.’ I’m sorry, okay?”
“Okay,” Molly said. “What about you?”
“What about me?” Rosanna asked.
“What are you gonna do?”
“I’m gonna finish my eggs, smoke a cigarette with you, and then go get a massage,” Rosanna said. “I need to be relaxed for this thing.”
After the cigarette, Molly went to the bursar’s office. There was something wrong with her account. She couldn’t register for classes in the spring semester.
“You’ve got a hold,” the clerk said. She tapped the keyboard and stared into the screen. “You’ve got a bunch of holds.”
The clerk was Chinese, a junior. She was in one of the better comedy troupes, Apple Pie Town. Molly had seen her in a skit where she’d played the Bruce Willis character in a surreal episode of Moonlighting.
“Two obscure room fees that are blatantly cruel and unnecessary, an overdue library book about the Holocaust, and you never paid for your meningitis shot,” the clerk said. “You owe five hundred and thirty-seven dollars and twelve cents. Or, you could bring the Hitler book back, and it’d be an even five-eighteen.”
She had no idea where that book was.
“Bummer,” the clerk said. “So the first number then. It would have to be the first.”
Molly could sense the restless, impatient rage of those in line behind her.
“What does it all mean?” she asked.
“It means you can totally come back to school and everything next semester,” the clerk said. “But you can’t go to classes. And you can’t eat or sleep. Not here. Not until the hold’s gone.”
Molly walked across the street to the bank. She asked the teller if she could see her checking account balance. The teller was youngish and cute, but then he eyed her in that too long way, and she felt creeped out. He wrote down her account balance on a white slip of paper and passed it to her. She flipped the paper over. It was the number 8.
Eric wasn’t at the Movement final. She went into the bathroom and tried to clear her head, but it proved impossible. Desperation infected her. It was a feeling of bottoming out, a chalkiness to her face and hands. But wasn’t that the whole thing? Wasn’t it onslaught, onslaught, onslaught, feeling, feeling, feeling? Wasn’t it either too much or not enough? Wasn’t it a long, boring freak-out?
She passed through her mother onto the floor. A stranger wrapped her in a blanket. She slept and slept and cried for years. The world was out of reach. More than half of everything was dark. Her fingers grew, her arms, her legs. A man spoke at her, a woman. Gentleness turned away. There were too many people to account for and then a short spell of loneliness. She read a book. She walked into a room, sat, and stood up in another. She did this again, and again, and again. From out of nowhere, from off stage, a man ran into her. There was a certain amount of love. She screamed in pain and was confused by the child. The man disappeared. She pointed out an object, a person, a building. She saw these things as if for the first time. She kept on going down the line. A certain kind of loneliness no longer bothered her. Or it did, but she behaved as if it didn’t. Work. Work. Work. She performed her suffering. The moon was the clock on the wall. She listened to the loud tick of it. The child returned. A swell of pure emotion overcame her, like a great and mysterious illness. More than half of everything was light. There was too much loneliness to account for, and then a short spell of people. The people made noises with their mouths. No one understood her, or one another, or anything. The world was out of reach. A chasm opened up above her head. She raised her arms up into it. She wanted to be gentle. The professor called time.
She sat in the back for the rest of class, feeling defeated. For no reason other than her own suspicion and tendency to think this way—because they had in fact clapped for her, and stared at her, and made room for her on the floor whispering “slide over”—Molly believed she had failed. The performance had not come off as she had wanted it to. There were several disastrous beats, a too-large motion here and there. She’d been too much in her head.
“What planet are you on?” her friend Denise asked her. “All you thin, beautiful girls…”
“I’m just saying—”
“A bunch of crap,” Denise said. “If I’d done what you did, I’d be walking around like, ‘Suck it!’ That was amazing.”
They were putting their jeans on over their tights in the now empty classroom. Denise crouched down slightly and shook her ass like a girl in a Dr. Dre video. Molly was jealous of that ass. It was round. It was an actual ass. Molly thought hers was only okay. She imagined herself doing squats.
“You’re thin too,” Molly said. “You’re beautiful.”
“I’m cute,” Denise said. “I’m healthy.”
“You’re beautiful—so shut up.”
“What I am,” Denise said, as she continued to gyrate, “is sexy as shit. I’ve got confidence. It’s gonna take me places.”
She waited for Denise to finish changing, to put on her big, furry boots and hat. School frightened Molly sometimes, the other students, their overwhelming confidence. Hers came and went. Eric said she was a classic narcissist.
“I hate that guy,” Denise said, as they went down the stairs. “He’s the worst. You know what he did the last time I saw him? He walked up to me at O’Malley’s, slapped me on the ass, and called me a cunt. Who does that? What kind of a person do you have to be?”
“He was probably drunk.”
“That guy’s always drunk,” Denise said. “You’ve got a real Freudian thing going on with him. You’re having sex with your father.”
“Disgusting. I am not,” Molly said, although the thought had occurred to her as well. Her father was seven years sober. “Don’t ever say that again, please. I’m gonna throw up.”
“Relax,” Denise said. “Everyone’s had an incest dream or two.”
The downstairs bubbled with students. The mood was celebratory. Finals exhaustion had lifted like a face peel. Their skin was young and bright. Half the seniors would be moving to LA for the spring semester. The college did an internship program out there. They lived in an apartment complex or something. It was a big selling point. There was a pool. Did NYU have a pool? Could they see Warner Brothers from their mountaintop? Had the Fonz gone there?
Molly would have to wait for all that. Even as a freshman she’d already made the decision not to do stage work, even though she loved it. She loved the high, and the rehearsals, and the feel of the wood beneath her feet, but, at the end of the day, she felt estranged from that particular dream of life. She didn’t get off on the idea of being art poor. Her future was lit differently. It wasn’t quite as dark or as neon. She didn’t want to smoke forever. When Molly saw the seniors, she was reminded of the years that remained, of the never-ending credits, of the basic math course she would have to take, of the job she would need on top of school next semester, and all the semesters post that, and for how long afterward, and for what, and why? How would she even get to that future? What sort of loan would it take?
Alone, she crossed over Beacon Street at Charles and walked into the Common. It was noon, but the holiday lights were on in the trees. A golden retriever bounded through the snow as if auditioning for a catalogue. Over the hill, behind the monument, she heard the warbled speaker effect of the ice skating rink. Where the four paths met at the oak tree, she saw Greg Watson.
“Hey, jerk,” Molly said.
He was coming from their building. They lived on the same floor.
“I waved at you earlier. I was saying hi. You were too cool.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“Yes, you did.”
They left it at that. Greg never wore a hat. His shaved bald head suited him. He wore a beat-up old leather jacket. She asked him where he was going.
“Speech on what?”
“Jesus Christ,” she said. “You guys and that guy. It’s a lifestyle.”
“He’s great,” Greg said.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Molly said. “Read a woman. Read a black person.”
“Sure,” she said.
Greg never seemed to be in a rush. He kept a small notebook in his back jean pocket. He smoked a lot of pot. He hung out with another writer dude in his class who worked at a liquor store in Jamaica Plain. After workshop, they always sat on the low brick wall at the edge of the Common. They would smoke cigarettes, and tell each other to fuck off, like it was the funniest thing in the world.
Molly explained her entire life to him.
“Sucks about the holds,” Greg said. “What time is he supposed to bring the movie?”
“He’s an awful person,” Greg said.
“I mean like really.”
The wind picked up and blew into them as if from out of every direction possible. Both Molly and Greg staggered in it, a little two-step, and peeked at the other through lashes. Once upon a time, two weeks before, they’d been drunk at three in the morning, side by side on a stranger’s top bunk. He’d kissed her. She’d called him sweet. It devolved into one of those moments where she had a boyfriend.
“I gotta do this thing,” Greg said. He moonwalked away from her, his back to the wind.
Back upstairs, her roommate was gone. Leslie had taken everything that belonged to her: the TV, the rug, the mini-fridge, the bean-bag chair, the microwave—even the phone. Molly wanted to be angry about it, about the phone, but what was poor, depressed Leslie supposed to do? She was seventeen, and seemed even younger than that, and she wasn’t coming back in the spring. She was “taking the semester off,” but Molly could guess what that meant: naps, masturbation, TV. It gave Molly the willies. It seemed like a long dark road.
She sat on Leslie’s bed and contemplated her own side of the room. Molly liked her Breathless poster, and her giant Bette Davis smoking a cigarette. She liked the upside-down roses from after the freshman showcase. She loved the bookshelf she’d put up herself, and all the books upon it, their colors and titles, how she’d read them all, and the way she’d ordered them, not alphabetically, but by size, tallest to shortest, so that a tiny volume by Blake greeted anyone who entered. Near the foot of her bed was her desk. On top of her desk sat her computer. Above her computer was an old gilded mirror that had belonged to her mother’s mother, and in the window a stained glass of an eagle made by her too. There was also her great aunt’s jewelry box on top of her dresser. It was empty, but it was expensive. How much for all that? she wondered. What was all that stuff worth?
The short was about a girl whose father has a heart attack. She gets a phone call from her mother. It’s not serious, the mother says. It’s minor. She doesn’t need to come home, or not now at least. He has to eat better, the voice of Rosanna Archer says. He has to exercise. The mother’s been saying that for years. Molly goes ahead and throws her party as planned. It is a wild time in a small space. One guy wears a sombrero. A girl falls onto a table and flattens it. Someone brings their dog, and the dog eats the cake. After the party montage, Molly goes out onto her fire escape. She smokes a cigarette and looks through the window of the apartment across the way. A young father puts his tiny daughter to bed, turns the light off in her room, and goes into his kitchen, where he opens the window. He too smokes a cigarette, half his body hanging out into the cool, autumn night. He says hi. Molly does the same. She apologizes for the noise. Eric Os, portraying the father, says it’s fine. It’s karma. It’s all the parties he ever went to coming back to him. Everyone gets a turn, he says, but could they wrap it up by midnight?
The party dies its drunken death. It’s well past three. Alone again, Molly’s phone rings. She answers. She listens. Everyone decided it would be more powerful if she didn’t cry.
She did her laundry and packed. By five o’clock, there was still no Eric, still no tape. They had an hour.
“Do you know how much money I spent on that crane shot?” Rosanna asked. She lay on Molly’s bed and stared at Bette Davis. “The permit alone was fifteen hundred. I had to tell the city it was for a commercial. Do you remember how hard it was to get the crane in the alley? It was impossible. Impossible!”
“But you did it,” Molly said.
“I did. I made that happen. Me. I did that,” Rosanna said. “Whosoever can change the night to day. Whosoever can turn the sun to rain. She shall be the producer.”
“I don’t know,” Rosanna said. “Where is that asshole?”
They tried calling from the pay phone, but once again they got his machine.
“Hello, Eric. This is Rosanna. I am going to kill you with my bare hands. I’m not even upset about it anymore. I’m resigned to whatever jail time I do. I will kill you, and when the judge asks me if I feel remorse, I will say no, and that the only thing I regret is that I can’t strangle you to death, every day, until forever. Molly’s upset as well.”
They would have to get the tape themselves. It was decided. They would have to run out of there, through the Common and the Garden, up Beacon Street to Eric’s apartment at the corner of Exeter, and pry it out of his coke-over’d hands, no matter its state. That was all there was to it. It would have to be done.
In front of the dorm, as they pulled on their hats and gloves, Kevin Murphy, a marketing major with ill-advised dreadlocks who Molly knew through Eric, said, “Hey, you two. I almost forgot about this,” and yanked a thick, oversized envelope from out of his messenger bag.
The students had daydreams about the future in which they sat to be interviewed by entertainment news reporters. It was one of the things young lovers bonded over—the revealing of this fantasy. They kept journals and diaries and what some of them insisted on calling notebooks, and in these they admitted to a certain kind of anguish. They threw the word genius around. She was a genius. He was a genius. They were geniuses. Harvard was for shitheads. Fuck those kids, they said. The students walked around with guitars strapped to their backs as if they knew more than three chords. They called their parents and asked for money. They rehearsed. They went to Alaska the previous summer and PA’d on a documentary about Inuit tribes and then acted like it was the first time in the whole history of the world anybody had ever done that. They could not understand why that Harvard girl would not call them back. They dropped acid on a rooftop in Beacon Hill and saw the city stretched out before them like the glowing revolutionary concept it was. They watched endless amounts of television and wrote term papers comparing Little Women to The Golden Girls. Like anyone, they rolled big fat fatties that went straight to their domes. They had nervous breakdowns. They were shipped off to rehab. They went on tour with their band, a little van circuit, to Buffalo and back. They free-styled. They went to Miami over break and came back with crabs. They would not shut up about Bret Easton Ellis. They spoke of Howl like Ginsberg had written it yesterday. They said they had an idea for a play that was ten hours long, maybe twelve, and they were going to need everybody. They did a line of coke and went to the gym and passed out on the treadmill. They watched a movie being shot on Charles Street with a TV actor who was trying to break through. They listened to the Cure, to the Wu-Tang Clan. They went to the Middle East, the Orpheum, to that shithole in Inman. They rode the Red Line. The Green Line. The Orange Line if they were cool. They performed. They wrote. They rehearsed. They found an original print of this. Of that. They watched it in the Student Union and wondered if they should drop out. Should they drop out? They wanted to drop out. They got off on Cassavetes, Kieslowski, Lynch. Hollywood was full of crooks and liars, but they wanted in. Everything was for that. That was everything. This wasn’t pretend. It was real. It was happening. They were going there. Or New York. Or San Francisco, if they were some kind of purist. No matter where, they were going. They were a movement, a motion, a force like a river overflowing its banks, and who could stop that?
The Vault was packed. It was a refurbished bank building with its namesake like an open mouth in the back, but covered up now by the projection screen. The purple and gold NHSFF logo wobbled on the canvas as if floating in a day old bowl of milk. Molly wore heels, a red jumpsuit, and a bra that pushed her tits up. She knew how good she looked: she looked amazing. It had been decided that if they won, Rosanna would accept the award, but Molly wanted to leave an impression up there on stage. Everyone clutched their voting ballots or had left them on chairs to save their seats. The little pencils were all over the place. Students circled one another, and then one member of the circle would splinter off and hurry down the row to another circle. They spent their lives on top of one another, and they were never not in competition, or on the verge of hating someone forever, but every occasion felt like a reunion, or a once-in-a-lifetime party.
Through the glittering air above their heads and onto the screen the movies played one after the other. A girl met a stray dog and took the dog home to her sister who was dying of cancer. A boy who was late for school ran through a series of obstacles including a drive-by shooting played for laughs. There was a music video with a choreographed dance, a mockumentary about a homeless super villain, a doc titled My Summer with the Inuits. A father explained in a voiceover what it had been like to escape Cambodia under Pol Pot as the camera panned over skulls from the killing fields. Men in full drag reenacted a scene from The Golden Girls, and then it was Molly’s movie. She didn’t recognize it at first. Eric had changed the title.
“The Candle in the Window?” she whispered to Rosanna.
The opening was the same. The camera swooped down from the tops of the buildings. Through the window, Molly is seen in her apartment. Her phone rings. From the audience, she watched herself on screen.
The voice track cut out immediately. The whole tenor of the short was lost, the entire plot gone. There was a jump cut to the B-roll, to what Molly had thought were extended establishing shots where she’d sat on the futon and mouthed nonsense into the phone. The next shot was of the candle. Watching the movie, Molly sensed the tonal shift. It wasn’t the same story anymore. There wasn’t a story, or not a good one. Eric had reshot his part. The young daughter was history. He stood alone in his character’s apartment, staring out across the alley into Molly’s living room. The next three minutes were a sequence of establishing shots reedited to look continuous. These shots were intercut with new footage, and each cut to Eric was worse than the last. In one, he unbuckled his belt. In the next, he unzipped his fly. Eric’s only decent choice for the following shot was that it was framed from the waist up, but everybody knew what that arm motion meant. The next shot was of Molly reaching out to put her finger in the candle flame. During the shoot, she’d done this as a gag. It was something between her and him, not their characters. Molly hadn’t even known they were rolling. She watched herself pull her finger out of the flame and put it in her mouth and suck on it. She watched her character stare at Eric. She watched her finger slip out of her mouth and then slide back in. She did this twice more, and then she pulled down her bottom lip so her mouth was half open. The last shot was of Eric, a close-up, and everybody knew what that face meant. The moan was entirely unnecessary.
“At least it wasn’t you getting off on camera,” Greg said. “That’s one good thing.”
The Candle in the Window placed next to last. Molly and Rosanna sat through the award announcements and speeches in a traumatized stupor, their eyes dead and faces slack, like the last remaining survivors in a bloodbath. Greg had found them. He led them next door to O’Malley’s, where the bouncer was a rageholic sophomore named Trevor. If you were cool with Trevor, it was cool—you could be there.
“I hate him,” Molly said. She put her hands down on the table they had miraculously scored, felt the sticky beer, and lifted them back up into the air. “I feel like a whore.”
“I would too,” Rosanna said. “I just paid fifteen thousand dollars to watch you simulate a blowjob.”
“How much?” Greg asked.
“You heard me,” Rosanna said. “We aren’t all fundamentalists, like you. This isn’t art for art’s sake. Talk to me in five years when you’re living in squalor.”
They sat there drinking. O’Malley’s was not a college bar. It was for old men who drank during the day, and there shouldn’t have been a hundred and thirty students in it. “Freedom” by George Michael played on the jukebox. A few of the older marketing majors, tall girls like her, but with blow-dried hair and a certain finish to their outfits, looked at her and laughed, but otherwise no one paid Molly any attention, or, if they did, it was only to briefly glance at her, a stupid girl who’d made herself look like an ass, one of a million, and not worth their time. This, finally, was the offense that revealed itself, and stuck. It wasn’t that she’d been sexualized—she was used to that. It wasn’t that Eric had ruined the movie—that almost made sense. What bothered Molly, hurt her feelings, and enraged her, was that she wasn’t being taken seriously. Eric had turned her into a joke. It felt unforgivable.
“Did that thing really cost fifteen thousand dollars?” Greg asked.
Rosanna had gone to the bathroom. The line was seven miles long.
“Twice that,” Molly said. “That was her half. Eric paid for the rest.”
“What’s it matter? You’re all rich. You’re all sitting on a pile of candy.”
“First of all, Brando said that. And second of all, in what universe am I rich? How do I get there? I wanna go.”
“You always have money,” Molly said.
During the three and a half months she’d been friends with Greg, she’d noticed him noticing. He was not especially suave about this. It came off like a long stare, where he wouldn’t blink, and simply look into a person, rummage around inside them for a while, and then come back out into the light of day with a bloody, incontrovertible truth in his hands. He’d shared some of this information with Molly. “Rosanna hates herself,” he’d told her. “Your friend Denise is a closeted lesbian.” “Eric’s father never shows him affection.” Across the table, he peered into her. She thought Greg was going to tell her something about herself she didn’t want to hear.
“I sell weed,” he said.
“Since when?” Molly asked. “I want some.”
“I don’t sell it at school. I don’t want people knowing. I sell it back home in Newton. Not all the time. Just when I need the money.”
Greg knew a guy who lived in Allston. The guy fronted him the weed. If they asked nicely, if they were cool, he would probably do the same for Molly, but only if she wanted to, and only if she could sell it back home. It would solve her money problems, Greg said. It would take care of the holds.
The thought crossed her mind in a serious flash, but, then again, she’d seen that movie and read that book. It was an exciting and entertaining story, and it was for those very reasons it kept getting made, but Molly didn’t have time for a lunatic drug dealer, or the cold, hard fact of a gun on the table. All of that was totally not her. In the moment, her whole life felt that way. Everyone Molly knew wanted experience, and Greg was no exception. His life was research. He was in the pursuit of material. Molly admired this about him, but she was tired of experience. She wanted a life. It was a no-thanks.
After one more beer, she called it quits.
“Come see me,” Rosanna said. “My parents would love you. They’d want to adopt you. You could stay forever.”
“Let me know if you come down,” Greg said. “I could give you a heritage tour. Those are always boring.”
Molly hugged them both and promised them each she would do what she could. Crossing back over Tremont, she noticed the weather. One of those warm December evenings had been born. She smelled the earth in the air, and the garbage. It was early still, not even ten, and she wasn’t tired anyway. She walked into the Common, and retraced those steps she’d made all year. Here, in its center, Boston was an old jewel of a town, a dark ruby, or a fortress made of brick and tarnished bronze. On the hill, the State House dome radiated light. She crossed the street into the Garden, where the pond had long been drained, the mud at its bottom rippled in ice. The city had dressed the Comm Ave lampposts up in Christmas boughs and ribbons. She went up the mall, between the brownstones, and then cut down Dartmouth in the direction of the river. Marlborough was spooky in the dark, and in the daytime too, the untrimmed weight of the apple blossoms deforming them into the street, and it was always a revelation, a feeling of having come through, when it was behind her. She took Exeter to Beacon, went a half block, and walked up the stairs at 309. At the top, near the front door, Molly leaned over the handrail. She steadied herself so as not to fall, and knocked on Eric’s window.
After several long minutes, during which she rapped, and tapped, and shouted, “I know you’re in there, Cecil B. Jerkoff,” his shade went up. Eric was wrapped in a blanket, and his face had the bunched, dehydrated look of a dead white rose. The dim wattage of his desk lamp in the background completed the mood of existential hangover going on. He put a crooked finger in the air, and Molly watched him shuffle away.
The front bolt was tricky, but he finally got it.
“Not yet,” he said. “I’m begging you, please. Let me lie down.”
She followed him back into his apartment, and closed the door behind her. She heard him drop onto his futon. It was a cheap and familiar sound. The studio gave off whiffs of body odor and mold.
“I’m opening a window,” she said. “When was the last time you were outside?”
“I don’t know.”
“Negative,” he said.
With some effort, she raised the window. The cold air blew against her chest. She stared across the alley at the condos.
“You’re a piece of shit,” Molly said. “Do you know that?”
“Everybody hates you.”
She sat in the chair nearest him, and examined his face. Eric had radiant blue eyes. In between them, above the bridge of his nose, a pair of tiny hairs grew. Molly knew he usually plucked them, but there they were, taunting her. She told him to stop crying, went into his bathroom, and came back out with a roll of toilet paper and his tweezers. She handed him the toilet paper. “Sit up,” she said. “Blow.” When he was finished, they looked down together at the blood. “Shhhh,” she said. “It’s okay.” She wrapped the old toilet paper in a bundle of new and threw it in the trash. She told him to sit up straight, and to relax. With her left hand, she cupped the back of his head, and leaned in close. He smelled of sweat and gin. She narrowed her eyes, and plucked.
“Ow,” he said.
She told him to lie down on the futon. She pulled a dirty blanket from off his bed and covered him with it. In his kitchenette, she poured him a glass of water, and placed it on the floor within his reach. She took the chair again.
“It was bad?” he asked her.
“Bad,” she said. “Was it real?”
“I thought it’d be flattering.”
“You’re an idiot,” she said.
There was a poster for E.T. on the wall, the boy on his bicycle against the moon, E.T. hooded up like Eric on the futon. He was from Chicago, or from one of the John Hughes–style towns outside the city. His father worked in the top floor of a very tall building.
She drank from her own glass of water.
“I don’t think I can come back next semester,” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
Eric asked her how much and she told him.
“You’re a dirt-poor country girl.”
“Yut,” Molly said.
He sprang up all at once and ran to the bathroom. Molly listened to him vomit.
“You okay?” she asked.
“No,” he shouted. “I’m not. This is my whole life right here.”
Eric stood in the doorway, and wiped his mouth with a washcloth. If he tried to clean himself up and make a move on her, she was going to kick him in the movie star. She looked at him and felt sad. He believed her kindness meant she had forgiven him. He didn’t understand women at all.
“You can’t go,” he said. “Look at me. What would I do without you?”
“The same thing,” she said, and smiled.
“Seriously,” he said.
“You can’t go. We have movies to make. People will forget about this one. People forget everything. That’s all they do,” he said. “I’ve got a screenplay idea where you’re homeless. We could do method research. I know a Harvard guy who works at a shelter. We could sleep there. We could really get it.”
“Tempting,” she said.
“I’m serious,” Eric said. “When do those loan checks come in? It’s a lump sum, right?”
He went to his desk and pulled open a few drawers.
“I don’t want your money,” she said.
“Just hold on.”
His back to her, Molly watched him find his checkbook. It was a joint account that his father dumped money into every few weeks.
“It’s more than the holds,” she said. “I’ve got a plan.”
Molly heard him tear the check out. He walked over and handed it to her. It was for two thousand dollars.
“Keep half,” he said. “You can pay me back the rest when your loans come in.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m saying, ‘I’m sorry,’?” Eric said. “I’m saying, ‘I’m sorry about the movie.’?”
He was paying her off, was what he was doing, and she absolutely, positively could believe it. Eric was pathetic. She pitied and hated him. Her plan, the one she’d made on the walk over, had been to go back home to Vermont and work. If her parents tried to force her after the new year to go back to school, she would fake a breakdown or a depression or something. The symptoms would be easy to fake. She would work and save up and move to California in May, when Rosanna was home. After that, she didn’t know, but she had planned it out that far at least, and now it was going to happen much, much sooner. She wouldn’t have to work at all.