“…I used to go to therapy the way other kids went to soccer or piano. Like talking about my problems was a skill I had to get better at.” Lauren says.
“Did it help?”
“Did what help? The therapy? Depends. I’m not sure there was anything wrong with me in the first place. Probably, I’d’ve gotten more out of soccer, but no one asked.”
Lauren takes a bite of her hamburger. I drink lemonade through a straw. Beneath the table, her feet rub up against mine. After lunch, we go back to her apartment and take mushrooms, then make love on the ugly green sofa in the living room. When it’s over, she sits up without putting on a shirt, and pulls the cord behind the couch that raises the Venetian blinds. The room floods with the violent colors of sunset. In this light, she is marble and bronze, the gravity of her weight and mass irresistible.
The apartment is on Venice Beach. She’s renting from a friend who lives in Paris now. In the friend’s old life, she was an editorial assistant at a women’s fitness magazine. Now she rides the TGV and sends Lauren digital pictures of new boyfriends. While Lauren takes a shower, gets dressed, I wander out onto the balcony overlooking the boardwalk. A very round woman with the largest breasts I have ever seen totters by in a hot pink bathing suit. She looks exactly like a gumball from one of those machines. I start giggling in this stupid way and can’t stop. From where I am, the boardwalk sounds like this:
“Are you in the market for a couch?”
“Middle class piece of scum.”
“Originally, I thought about canceling the project, but think about it…my office is gonna be a walk-in freezer!”
“You’re going to see more success with this than you’ve ever seen in your life.”
“I’m thinking about it, and- this is something that’s going to make a big difference for all of us.”
“Nice view, ain’t it?”
This last, directed at me, comes from a man with a face covered in tattoos. He grins and I see that he has no teeth. I grin back. All over the beach, little kids roll over in the sand. Why are they always so happy? From outside, I hear Lauren turn on the television. “Come in here,” she calls, and I do. She’s watching a movie, but I can’t figure out what any of the characters are saying, and for a minute, I worry I’ve done something permanent to my brain.
“It’s in Spanish,” Lauren says finally.
“Thank God,” I say.
“You don’t have to do this,” Lauren says. I keep watching TV, like I’m too out of it to hear her, which she buys. There are lots of things I don’t have to do. For one, I don’t have to come all the way to California to trip with Lauren and watch TV on her couch. I’m as busy as anybody else. I work. But Lauren makes me laugh, and besides, I think I might be in love with her. At the same moment I have this thought, I stop ignoring her.
“What don’t I have to do?”
“Nothing. I forgot what I was going to say.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“It doesn’t matter, though. Don’t worry about it. Fine. What I was going to say is you don’t have to come here anymore. You don’t have to find ways to like…spend time with me. I know your life is different now, and I don’t want you thinking I’m here pining away for you, or that’ll I die or go crazy or something if we end this.” While she talks, I watch her lips move up and down. A silver chain link necklace rests against the break between her collar bones, so delicate I could snap it between my fingers. She sits on the arm of the sofa, floating above me. My shoulder rests against the softness of her thigh. She lays the palm of her hand softly on my head, sort of stroking my hair.
“Whose talking about ending anything?”
“I am. But only if you want- “
“I don’t,” I say and stretch up to kiss her.
The thing about Lauren is that she’s not my girlfriend. My girlfriend lives in New York. The thing about Lauren is that she almost got married once, but then didn’t, and even though she never said, I was probably the reason. The thing about Lauren and I is that we both know it wouldn’t work, and even though we should try anyway, we don’t. We’ve been sleeping together since college, through every real relationship either one of us ever had. It’s been two years since we graduated, and she’s right, things are different now. For me at least. Lauren stays at home, living off her trust fund and getting stoned with everybody she knows. Her friends scare me, some of them. She came to Los Angeles to be an actress, but I don’t remember hearing about many auditions, just a few meetings with an agent. I live in New York where my job is to act like an adult, sit at a desk, make phone calls and check my email between meetings. The truth is, I’m not unhappy. I like work, my girlfriend, my apartment. But there is something in Lauren that allows me to see.
“Well, look, the reason I brought it up is that I’m kind of..with someone. It might get serious, so I just thought we should talk about it now.”
I don’t answer.
“I really like this guy, plus, he could help me break into the business.” While she talks, she looks everywhere but at me. At the weird Ansel Adams prints hanging on the walls, which now, if I look at them hard enough, seem 3-d, like if I stood too close, I’d fall in. At the television. “He’s already been in three music videos and a shoe commercial.”
“Ooh…a shoe commercial,” I say for no reason.
“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. He said he’d help me work on my technique, and get me in contact with the right people. Maybe you’ve seen him. Oh, look” Lauren says, “That’s him.” I jump and turn toward the door.
“Jesus Lauren, I’m not even wearing pants.”
“Not out there. On TV.” I look at the screen and instantly know I’ve been set up. The video we’re watching has, for the last two weeks, been playing almost twenty four hours a day. The band is this old pop group from the 90’s. The song is the first new one they’ve made in as long as I can remember, and, even though I liked them when I was a kid, I think their new stuff sucks. In it, a boy plays the guitar on the beach by himself, singing a song about a girl he knew in high school and won’t ever see again. There are photographs of the girl, who is pretty and thin, with short dark hair and pale skin. In the pictures, she plays with her hair, blows bubbles, writes a letter. When the song ends, a pickup truck pulls up behind the kid, framing him in its headlights. Then the girl climbs out of it and sits down next to him on the beach and they kiss. The whole thing is so cheesy I want to throw up. After it ends, I start to get a headache.
“Are you serious, that guy?” I say faux-incredulously, since anyone could tell by looking at him that he’s not only an actor but a model, and, hell, if I had the chance, I’d probably date him too.
“Stop it,” she says.
“No, seriously. It’s not like I’m jealous or anything, I mean, I have a girlfriend,” this sounds whiny and false even to me, which is strange, because its true.
“Lets not talk about it anymore.”
I flip through the five hundred channels on her giant screen, looking for the news. In Alaska, they’re searching for a troop of lost boy scouts. One of them was going for his Eagle Scout award, mapping new trails in the mountains, and now all of them are missing. I keep flipping, not looking for anything now.
“Aren’t you bored?” Lauren says to me.
“Aren’t you bored?” I ask her.
“Not right now, I mean, with us.”
“So do I.”
She thinks for a minute.
With the front door open, the pulse of the ocean is so loud it fills the room. The walls of Lauren’s apartment are a yellow brown color, like clay or decaying leaves. I watch them melt for awhile, and, not unpleasantly, feel myself melting with them.