“Would you rather be beautiful or rich?” I ask Mandy. We’re poolside at her boyfriend’s beach house in Southampton.
“Both,” she smiles, sucking hibiscus iced tea through a glass straw.
“You have to choose.”
“Then rich,” she says. “You can’t pay rent with looks unless you’re a whore.”
Mandy has two boyfriends, Sam and Georgie. Georgie is an abstract painter who lives in Bushwick, but she’s phasing him out since she finds both his poverty and the J train intolerable.
“He washes his dishes in the bathtub because he doesn’t have a sink,” she complains, aghast.
Mandy is finding it difficult to eliminate Georgie, though, especially at bedtime, since he’s in the middle of reading her Henry James’ collected short stories in an animated, faux British accent. She also loves his kisses so much, she says, a little creepily, she’d drink his bottled saliva.
But the line was crossed last weekend when she found ants crawling on her legs in his bed.
“It’s just not a life,” she tells me, adjusting her Mara Hoffman bikini strap. She has decided to focus on Sam since he has heated toilet seats, and happens to be a billionaire.
Mandy and I have stayed in touch loosely ever since we wound up living together our senior year of college. She was almost feral back then, the kind of girl who’d bake a loaf of banana bread and leave it in her bed half-eaten for days. Red-headed, long-limbed and freckled, she dabbled in modeling after graduation, had stints on soap operas before they were obsolete, and now is an aspiring art dealer. She prefers flexible jobs so that if she meets the right guy, wherever he might be, she won’t be tied down.
“Sam seems nice,” I tell her, obsessively spraying SPF 50 all over my body.
“To me he is,” she says. “He’s an asshole at work, but he has to be. He’s the boss.” Sam’s a big-time commercial real estate guy.
“That turns you on, doesn’t it?” I tease.
She smirks, chomping on ice. “It’s better than being walked on.”
When the clouds creep in, inconveniencing our tanning, we join Sam in the kitchen, where he’s hanging over the cooking staff as they prepare a 60-person lobster dinner on the beach, although the weather calls for rain.
“Mandy tells me you grew up in Soho,” Sam says, sipping his Macallan 18. “You’ve seen big changes.”
“Big,” I say.
“Well, we’ve done well there,” he chuckles. “Don’t hate me.”
“For the Old Navy around the corner?” I tease.
“Great shopping there, though,” Mandy says, placing her hand on Sam’s back.
On the countertop, a heap of lobsters contemplate doom.
I can’t help but ask, “If you were a lobster and had to choose, would you want to be boiled alive or stabbed?”
“Boiled alive,” Mandy says. “Stabbing doesn’t always work the first time.”
“How about, I don’t want to die?” Sam smiles, exposing perfectly white teeth.
“That’s not one of the options.”
“I should set you up with my 24-year-old son,” Sam responds. “He’s very good-looking.”
“That’s a little young for me,” I tell him.
“It’s not like you have to marry him.”
“Oh, but I’m of marrying age.”
“You can have a drink. You’d have met him tonight, but he’s in Nantucket with his mother.”
The weather holds and the dinner proves a success. There’s an argument between some blonde, conservative, pro-gun, anti-gay marriage lady and a left-wing media mogul. Words are flung over bored-looking crustaceans, but in the end there’s a truce. I give out my phone number a few times, but to no one particularly interesting.
A little later, buzzed from too many gin and tonics, and fanned out across a king-size bed in the Blue Room, I can just make out Mandy’s moans down the hall. You’d think a billionaire would invest in soundproof walls. As they fuck, I think of Georgie in his un-air conditioned tenement, covered in paint, clutching his idealism. I think of Mandy’s father, a carpenter in Secaucus, who had to continue working after back surgery, and as her cries grow louder I think, “Is that rage?”
I wake up to a lobster in my face and Mandy’s disconcerting laugh.
“Are you nuts?” I push her away.
“Shh,” she says, holding one in each hand. “We’re taking these pathetic creatures home.”
“Sam’s going to think I’m a bad guest.”
“What do you care? You’re not fucking him.”
“Can’t we save them in the morning?” I protest.
In the shadows of the Blue Room, I watch their legs grope for something familiar. They’re the rejects. One of them is missing a claw, the other has no claws at all. I agree: something must be done.
Like robbers, we sneak through Sam’s kitchen, then Mandy sprints ahead into the sand dunes, her red hair splayed out in moonlight. Soon we are in frigid, knee-deep water, but we can’t stop smiling. Sensing home, the lobsters wriggle in our hands. On three, we throw them across the Atlantic.
We’re high and the stars are too beautiful to go unnoticed. Falling back onto cool sand, Mandy whispers, “Can I tell you something?”
“Yes,” I say, nestling my cold nose just under her ear. Her hair smells like peaches.
“What do you mean how?”
“I mean, whose?”
“I don’t know.”
Her body shivers against mine.
“Can you hold me tight?” she asks.
I pull her close, hear her breath. Her chest goes up and down. The sand is damp. My teeth are chattering. She feels boney in my arms.
“It’s going to be okay.”
“Look,” Mandy points. “A shooting star.”
I’m pretty sure it was an airplane, but I don’t tell her. It’s all so far away.