From Long Island

This happened the night of Nate’s going away party—the same night Nate said he was indifferent to life. In the kitchen, the guys took shots of Jamo, saying “cheers man,” while their girlfriends sat at a glass round table, under an umbrella in the hot summer sun. The girls all wore ripped denim shorts, the kind that show a little bit of butt. The men wore polo shirts, tan khakis, and walked with their shoulders pushed back. They were twenty-five years old. They reeked of Creed cologne.

Zach Price, the best-looking of the group, worked on Wall Street as a stockbroker. He had a tattoo of a blue bald eagle on his right arm, and every once in a while, he would steal coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts that had been made for someone else. He enjoyed cardio, but not lifting weights, and he felt that his girlfriend, Stella Sanders, had recently become a bit of a drip. Zach stood at 6’2, but his hands, Stella noticed, were small.

Grady Comerford was short. He bragged about working for Verizon, but everyone knew he made most of his money from bartending at The Country Tavern, where he would pour drinks for barfly girls and lonely dads. It’s where he met Bella, who always requested that she be called Bells. She looked like a beer drinker, loud-mouthed with harsh makeup, but she liked white wine.

Nate O’Hare felt like a poseur. He landed a job with a white-shoe law firm in Charleston, and he was moving there—along with his girlfriend Jill Everett—next week.

“Nate,” Zach said, leaning his body weight against Nate’s kitchen wall. “Let’s go to The Catch later.” The Catch was the only strip club in Baldwin, New York, with the pillowy red sofas and faint purple stage lights. “Have one last hurrah before you turn all Southern gentleman on us.”

“Like he isn’t a gentleman already,” Grady laughed.

“Nah, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Kind of,” Zach said. “Jill would kill him, anyway.”

“Do they have strip clubs in Charleston?” Grady asked.

“I don’t fucking know, dude,” Nate said with a flat smile. His voice was deliberate, with a noticeable Long Island accent. He pronounced call as cawl, and dog as dawg. “Come on, let’s go outside.”

Stella Sanders was sitting across the table from Jill and Bells. Her black hair was pulled back into a loose low ponytail with a scrunchie, which she undid once the guys came out. Her eyes were a mix of blue, gold, and green—the kind of eyes that you had to look at twice. That girl, Nate thought to himself. She’s like a movie. It’s what he thought when he first saw her dance, that night at the bar in Manhattan. He admired the way she moved her hips, like a girl who loved herself, like a girl who had been hurt yet was empowered by the pain. Stella resembled both Scarlett Johansson and a dorky, happy eighth-grade girl.

The day of Nate’s party, Jill felt a carefree bliss. Even the bees, or Bells’s falling bikini strap, could not bother her. She thought that Charleston sounded like a dream, a place where women wear floral dresses every day and drink chai tea topped with cinnamon. She sang the words “my boyfriend and I are moving to Charleston” to anyone who would listen—even those she deemed beneath her, like the Stop & Shop cashier.

“Aren’t you going to miss Long Island?” Jill’s father once asked her. He had lived on Long Island his whole life: first in Queens, then in Garden City. He owned a construction company called CORE, and took pride in giving his daughter whatever she wanted.

“Of course I’ll miss it,” Jill said. Then she thought privately to herself that Long Island was the only expensive place that still managed to seem cheap. She told out-of-staters that she was from the Hamptons, when in truth, she lived over an hour away in Nassau County.

Grady shook Bells’s shoulders from behind, causing her to lightly shriek, and then he grabbed her neck and kissed her on the mouth. Nate pulled up a plastic chair next to Jill, causing a slow, dragging creek. Jill stuck her thin neck out, as if to say “kiss me,” and he did. Stella watched, and gave Zach a close-lipped smile, like he was an afterthought.


In college, Stella Sanders used to have this ritual. She’d go to 7/11 in her sluttiest clothes, which weren’t even that scandalous, but still. She’d walk up to the half-asleep cashier at 10pm, with her tight gray tank top, little black shorts, and a D-cup push-up bra. Usually she would buy a six-pack of Coronas or Marlboro Lights, and let the man put it in a green plastic bag for her. Then she would walk to her white Honda Civic, with the bird poop stain she never washed off, and look directly into the faces of catcallers gathered outside. She would drive back to her apartment with the windows rolled down. Only then, if she was in the mood, would she throw on a denim jacket and go out.

Partying was an issue for her. People always assumed Stella actually had friends, so they never invited her out. She would walk into bars alone with a practiced confidence, yet get saddled with the socially awkward types because of her beautiful-but-approachable round face. She had a way of never making anyone feel like she was just being charitable—even the needy guys who approached her with poor posture, as if begging for a hug.

Stella first met Zach at The Abbey, 10 minutes off campus from Providence College, where they both attended. Zach held his Bud Lite loosely in his right hand and traveled across the bar with a group of guys that looked just like him: all of them were tall, skinny, and white.

“Yo,” he said, tapping Stella on the shoulder. She was wearing a black strapless shirt and ripped jeans. “You’re in my econ class.”

Zach’s skin was clear and freshly shaven. His eyes were green, and his light brown hair curled in the back—but Stella didn’t recognize him.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” she said.

“Let me buy you a drink.”

Zach seemed to have had a few drinks already. His face looked warm and had that rosy flush.

“All right then.”


“No,” Stella said. “I get these hives; I think I’m allergic to vodka.”

“How about a Long Island Iced Tea?”

“I hate Long Islands,” she said, refraining from informing Zach that Long Island Iced Teas also contain vodka.

“Ah, well, that’s because you’re not from there. My buddy Nate and I drink these all the time.”

“I am from there,” Stella said, quickly and half-interested, with a raised eyebrow. She was a Suffolk County girl. “I’ll take a Bud Lite.”

Zach handed Stella her bottle, and cracked it open for her. His smile had an arrogance that some girls mistook for an edge. Based on his neatly gelled hair, Vineyard Vines polo, and his self-important voice, you assumed he came from money.

“Thank you.”

“I’ve had such a crush on you,” Zach suddenly blurted out. His voice seemed softer then. Almost nervous. “Whenever prof calls on you, you always know the answer.”

And that’s how it started. Zach and Stella took shots of tequila and walked each other home in the rain. Soon thereafter, they started studying together: two Econ majors, one who made flash cards and one who relied on Chegg and Google. Their sex was vanilla, even when it wasn’t. Zach had asthma and often had to use an inhaler, which turned Stella off. He claimed to read non-fiction and philosophy, but she was not certain she believed him. She had never seen him with a book. He told Stella “I’m great with parents,” incorrectly assuming that would win her over. But to Stella, Zach was just a college boyfriend: he did not need to be her great love. Ironic, given that Stella’s ex-boyfriend once told her that she was all-or-nothing, the sort of person who couldn’t love in moderation. Apparently she was the type of person he couldn’t half-love either, even though that was all he ever did—half-love her.

Stella liked that Zach didn’t smoke. She liked that he was consistent in his moods: his spirits high on a Thursday, and introverted and wine-drinking on a Sunday night. When he walked up to her front door, her stomach never flipped. She put her phone on silent before bed and didn’t worry about whether she would miss his texts or calls, and she felt good about that.


“I’m bored,” Jill said, putting down her glass of sangria. Her nails were long and painted in a white French manicure. “Let’s swim.” She took off her V-neck tank top with a certain carelessness, revealing a flat stomach and small waist, a belly ring, and a cherry-printed bikini. “Well?”

Nate took his shirt off but kept his Ray Bans on. His eyes stayed on Jill’s bubble butt as he followed her into the pool. He had that V-shaped back, with calloused hands typical of football players. His eyebrows were dark and thick.

“Hurry up!”

Nate glided in, slowly, with his long arms spread out. Stella watched Nate without him noticing. He reminded her of a guy at prom, taking pictures with all of his friends, secretly dying to go home. He probably has had friends all of his life, Stella thought, yet something about his countenance, his rarely bestowed smile, appeared painfully introverted to her—like his only real companion was in his own head.

“Yeah,” Grady said into his phone. “Yeah. One sec.” Then: “Fuck,” he announced, with his sunglasses hanging from his polo. “My boss wants me to come in tonight.”

“I’m sorry, hon,” Bells said. “What time?”

“That asshole Josh called in sick.”

Once Zach dipped his feet in the pool, Stella did too. She was wearing a black one-piece suit from Aerie. Her right hip was slightly higher than the other, but her breasts looked round and firm.

“Stella, what’s your job again?” Jill asked. The last time they saw each other was two months ago, at Stag Bar in Patchogue. They had engaged in dull small talk for ten minutes, and when their boyfriends returned from the bar, they both had been equally relieved.

“Right now, I’m a financial advisor for—”

“Oh, that’s right,” Jill said.

“Yeah, it’s a long workday.”

“Too long,” Zach added.

“Wow,” Jill said. She leaned back pensively, as if they were debating.

“My mom says I’m too dumb for that,” Bells said from her chair. Her voice was light and airy. “You know. Numbers stuff.”

“I wish I was dumb,” Jill said, yawning. “Don’t any of you wish you were dumb? Dumb people seem so much happier.”

“I don’t think that’s true, actually,” Nate said. “That dumb people are happier.”

“I’m pretty happy,” Stella said, with a touch of condescension. She gave Nate a smile.

Jill got out of the water, ignoring both Nate and Stella, and dripping wet from the top of her bikini down to her toes. She turned on the power button to her silver Bose speaker, and scrolled through her Spotify to find the right playlist. “Hmm,” she said. “Let’s listen to something old.”

“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M played. She swung her hips left and right while rubbing sunscreen on her neck.

“So, you actually have to leave and go to work later?” Zach asked Grady.

“Yeah, it’s the job, man.”

“That’s wild.”

“Well, he works hard,” Bells said. She grabbed Grady’s hand in a way that embarrassed him.

“Jesus,” Jill said. “I bought SPF 50. I thought it was SPF 15.”

“Aren’t you orange enough already?” Nate asked.

“Well, that’s fucking rude,” Jill said with a glare. She got back in the pool, splashed him playfully, and kissed him like she couldn’t help herself. Nate felt like he was fifteen, acne-ridden and awkward, forced to play in the pool with his mom’s friends’ kids. He chewed on his inner lip. Stella thought he gave her a look, the same look he had given her more than once in the past. God, she thought. He’s beautiful.


Stella’s ex-boyfriend was sweet and had big dreams, but he was narcissistic and delusional. He told Stella that talking to her made him happy, and that she had a lot of depth to her character. There were moments when Stella just wanted to hug him, when she thought she couldn’t love anyone more in the world than the boy who wore a baby blue Gap T-shirt on their first date. The boy who seemed so shy and vulnerable whenever he talked to her parents, and whose face got red during high school PowerPoint presentations. They got in frequent texting fights, but forgave each other easily and had sex to rock music in his Jeep. Their best days were when they did nothing at all, only talked until three in the morning and then held each other in silence.

“I need to focus on myself right now,” he told Stella in his dorm, his green headset on. “With job interviews coming up. People look at me and see potential.”

“But you’re not focusing on yourself,” Stella pointed out. “You’re playing video games all day and partying with these losers who don’t give a shit about you.” He was a junior at Binghamton, and Stella was visiting him from Providence. They had been dating since high school.

“Well, I need to focus on writing my novel too.”

“Since when are you writing a novel?”

Stella broke up with him at the Setauket diner, while home for school break. They drank black coffee and nibbled on home fries that were lacking in flavor. Stella told him that he was inconsistent: that when he felt defeated, he was obnoxious and mean—at her expense. He made her feel both special and insignificant, equally.

“Well, you never meant that much to me anyway,” he said, but his petty, sad brown eyes told Stella the truth. Then he got up and left.

Stella listened to Cigarettes After Sex on the drive home, in the rain. She lost ten pounds. She finished her semester with a 3.9 GPA and met Zach one night at The Abbey. But her ex was the only guy who ever really made her feel something, and she hated that. She didn’t realize until she met Nate that she missed feeling something.


Nate, Grady, and Zach had all gone to Baldwin High School on Long Island. They used to blast Lil Durk and YoungBoyBroke on the road and upcharged nerds for Natty Lites at parties. Zach got the pretty girls: girls who played lacrosse and regularly had 500+ likes on Instagram. Nate got the obscure ones: girls from the orchestra you didn’t realize were hot until he banged them. And Grady was the type of guy who only ever made half-assed moves, who kept asking girls to watch movies at 12am until eventually, it worked. Then he’d date whichever girl fell for it until they broke up with him, and never the other way around.

“We were just talking about how we all met,” Jill announced when Grady got back from the bathroom.

“Nate and I met at a frat party,” Jill said. “I was drunk, and my arm was wobbling, and my drink was about to fall out of my hand. He took it from me and we talked about my cats.”

“Sounds riveting,” Grady said.

“There was more than that, jerk. He really took me by surprise, though,” Jill said, and then she held Nate’s hand.

“It took me by surprise, too,” Nate said, in a quiet voice. But the truth was that Nate just thought Jill was hot, but she was drunk so he couldn’t fuck her that night: he had to hold out for one more week. Jill was always out with her friends or at some sorority event, and Nate found he had a lot of time to himself, which he liked. He hated her cats, though.

“Well, Stella and I met at a bar,” Zach said. “We both had an econ class together.”

“I actually didn’t recognize you that night,” Stella said.

“What?” Zach laughed.

“Yeah, I had no idea who you were.” Stella smiled. Then she got up and grabbed a towel.

Nate watched Stella dry herself off and the way her body pressed together when she bent down. Her black hair was wet and messy, and it had begun to curl from being wet. Mascara was stained beneath her light eyes. She turned around with an effortless rhythm, a casual fuck-you, and walked inside like she knew she was being watched.

Three minutes later, Nate said he needed more water, and asked if anyone wanted any.

“Me, please,” Bells said.

“You’ve got it.”

Nate opened the door. He walked down the hallway where the bathroom was. As soon as he did, Stella opened the door and came out.

“Hey,” he said shyly, and with a gulp.


“I don’t know, I just wanted to see you.” He shrugged his shoulders.

He gave her a humble smile, bent down and kissed her on the cheek, and damn, Stella floated. From their text exchanges, Nate knew Stella’s favorite lines from novels and the high, almost unattainable standard she placed on friendships. And Stella understood why Nate got so uncomfortable when people touted his accomplishments. His success never fulfilled him, not as much as it should have, and that made him feel guilty.


In high school, Nate O’Hare played football; he was a running back. He was attractive to girls because of his “I want to kill you” demeanor, and the way he ran through opposing players like they were ghosts. His smile had character, his kisses a bitter aftertaste. Even if he was a little weird-looking, with his intense brown eyes and a wide torso that made his body look like a square, girls still wanted him.

He was loved, he was hated, he had status. You fucked Nate O’Hare and you must have had something special. If you were friends with him, you had a quality he admired. To receive attention from Nate was a fleeting gift. But at every house party, all Nate could think about was when he could do an Irish goodbye. He would retreat to his room at home and put his AirPods on, or watch a movie at 1am because, finally, the world seemed quiet.

Though he would never advertise it, Nate knew how to write. In the eleventh grade, he wrote a short story about a boy named Oliver who always read comic books in class. One day, Oliver’s chemistry teacher grabbed the comic book from his hands and held it above boiling water. Oliver stood up with tears in his eyes and yelled “no” in protest. The whole class laughed at him, but the next day, Oliver brought the book again. It had been a gift from his mother, before she died two months earlier of lung cancer.

Nate’s AP English teacher told him that he had talent, that he understood the art of writing about both everything and nothing. Nate blushed when she told him—he felt as if he scored a touchdown. But he never wrote another story again. It wouldn’t get him anywhere, and unlike his “DJ/rapper” brother Paul, who house-hopped in LA, Nate needed to get somewhere.

Nate got a 1400 on his SAT—the highest score in his friend group. He earned a scholarship to UNC undergrad, he went to UNC law school, he passed the bar, he had a low-maintenance girlfriend. But still, Nate felt this constant in-betweenness, of hating life and enjoying it, and never quite one or the other.


They were going to have a chicken fight. Zach carried Stella on his shoulders with a slight hunch, and Jill jumped onto Nate’s back like she only weighed five pounds. Bells opted out: she felt bloated and sweaty and she wanted to keep drinking her Pinot Grigio. She had the proportions of an hourglass, but her stomach and arms were soft and loose.

“Come on!” Grady said.

“No, I’m tired and I hate chicken fights,” Bells said.

“All right,” Grady groaned.

“You carry around beer buckets all day, you should have some arm strength by now,” Zach said. Stella rolled her eyes.

“Just let it go, man,” Nate said to Zach as Grady took a seat next to Bells.

“You know, I don’t like chicken fights either,” Stella said. She looked at Jill’s mousy face and felt the situation was beneath her. Then she tapped Zach’s shoulder for him to bend down and let her jump off.

“I guess we’re the winners, babe!” Jill said, hopping off of Nate. “But I think we would have won anyway.” She looked up at Nate and scrunched her nose.


Nate and Grady took the train into Manhattan to meet Zach at one of his favorite New York clubs, somewhere he said he had once tried molly. They sat across from each other on the LIRR, with the turquoise cushioned seats. Grady listened to a true crime podcast with his AirPods and Nate listened to his usual old-school rap. He had a Spotify account with over a hundred meaningfully curated, aptly-titled playlists, but he didn’t allow anyone to follow him. He felt that would somehow cheapen his creations.

“Wait until you meet Stella,” Zach texted him. “She’s coming tonight.”

“Looking forward to it,” Nate replied. He had heard about this girl for months: that she was smart but had a nice rack. Nate imagined her as a dirty blonde with blue eyes and twig-like arms, one of Zach’s usual girls. He hit the shuffle button on his Slim Shady playlist. On his right, three teenage girls sat next to him, laughing and talking about how much they hated boys.

At 9pm, Lavo nightclub was more of a sit-down pub, with black leather couches that wrapped around in the shape of a U. The ceiling consisted of clear rooftop panels, revealing a star-filled and indigo New York City sky.

When Zach arrived, he was wearing a white button-down with no tie. He sat with his right foot crossed over his left leg and called the waitress “sweetheart” like she had done him a personal favor. Grady ordered two shots of tequila, drank them fast, and slammed them on the table.

“God, I needed that,” he said, and Nate thought, Why? Grady was one of those people who never really got angry and who didn’t have the type of job you’d lose sleep over.

“There she is,” Zach announced with a smile, not getting up from his seat. Stella was wearing a tight red top with one sleeve, and black leather pants that flared at the bottom. When she said hello, she appeared slightly out of breath, as if she was nervous. Her skin was tan and smooth. Her maroon lipstick was basically applied well, although Nate noticed a tiny smudge on the right corner of her lower lip.

“Guys, this is my girlfriend Stella,” Zach said, waving his hand toward her.

“We finally get to meet the mystery girl!” Grady said. Then he stood up and gave her a man-hug.

Nate got up last. He reached his hand out, looked her in the eyes for what felt like a while, and said that he had heard a lot about her.

“I’ve heard a lot about you too,” she said. She let go of his hand, maintained eye contact, and flashed a smile.

“Well? Are you going to sit?” Zach asked.

“I’m going to get a drink first.”

“Let me get it.”

“No, don’t worry about it,” Stella said. “Anyone want anything?”

“I’m good,” Grady said, and Nate just waved his hand to say no, go ahead, and she did.

“She’s kinda independent,” Zach said with an annoyed shake of his head. “Where did you say Jill was?”

“I don’t know, she said she might get here later. She got off late.”

“From Victoria’s Secret?”

“Well, that is where she works.”

“She should work at a bar instead,” Grady said. “She’d make mad tips.”

“The mall can’t possibly close that late, no?” Zach asked.

“I don’t know what to tell you. She might come. She might not.”

“All right.”

Stella leaned against the bar counter, her back slightly arched and her butt pushed out. She held cash in her hand whereas the girl next to her held a flimsy red card. The bartender took a Bud Lite out of an ice bucket, said what seemed to be a compliment, and Stella left him a five-dollar tip.

Nate watched Stella turn around. She locked eyes with some guy behind her who was standing with another girl. The guy was about 5’9, curly brown hair and muscular arms. He was wearing a navy-blue sweatshirt that looked particularly worn, and not exactly club attire. The girl next to him had a huge ass, and she was wearing a hot pink corset top.

Nate noticed the change in Stella’s eyes: the way they widened and then re-focused. She gave a gracious smile, almost cool, to both of them. She went to fiddle with the scrunchie on her wrist, but then stopped herself and held her head high. They exchanged a few words before Stella excused herself, heading back to the couch with her drink.

“Who was that, babe?” Zach asked. “Oh wait, you used to work with that girl, right?”

“Yes,” Stella said, looking down. Then took a sip of her beer and asked Grady about the customers he had to help at Verizon, and if old people or young people were worse.

“Honestly, the young people,” Grady said. “They’re such know-it-alls.”

Stella’s mouth laughed, but her eyes rarely did. Her eyes expressed a vulnerability and a strength, barely perceptible to most. Her eyes said, “One cruel sentence might stab this person, but never make her bleed for long.” She checked her watch with a passive acceptance, not quite daring to flee the bar. She stood up to pour some water from the plastic dispenser.

Nate followed. Stella poured water into her plastic cup and when she turned around, Nate was standing there, towering over her.

“That short guy. He must be an ex, right?”


“You don’t know that girl from work. You probably don’t know her at all.”

Stella gave him a knowing smile.

“You’ve got dignity, kid.” Then Nate motioned for her to move, so he could get his own water. For the first time in a while, she was surprised.

They all shared a pitcher of vodka cran, with Stella sticking to her beer. Grady was talking to a dumpy-looking blond, with fat boobs and a plaid skirt that was too short. Zach was telling a boring story about stock prices, and like Stella, Nate was only half-listening. The song “Over” by Drake came on, and the dance floor had finally started to crowd.

“I love this song,” Stella said. She felt a moving energy in her veins.

“Me too,” said Zach.

“So let’s go dance.”

Stella’s ex was already on the floor. His new girl had hips, but she couldn’t move them: she was more of a TikTok-style dancer. Stella got up from her seat and spun around, popping her butt out as she did.

“Fine,” Zach groaned. Nate, Grady, and the dumpy blond girl joined him.

Zach put a loose hand on Stella’s waist. He tried to twirl her even though the DJ wasn’t playing that kind of music—the slow kind that you twirled girls to. The blond grinded on Grady, and he just stood there, looking down at her ass as she bent her whole body over. Nate wasn’t sure what to do: he just sipped his vodka and looked around him.

Stella smiled and then didn’t. She moved her hips in a circular motion, arms side to side. The girl has rhythm, Nate thought, although he tried not to stare too much. A blond with fake lashes asked him to dance, and Nate told her that he already had a girl. The one he actually had was not the one he was thinking of.

Later, Nate stepped onto the rooftop and opened his pack of Marlboro Lites, slightly crumbled in his pocket like cash in a little kid’s wallet. The November air was the type of cold that almost felt warm. Nate flicked his orange BIC lighter and to his surprise, Stella came outside, alone. Nate handed her a cigarette, setting fire to it as it hung out of her delicate mouth.

“You love to dance,” he stated.

“I do.”

Nate smirked.


“Nothing. Zach hates to dance. Known him my whole life. Where are you from on Long Island?” he asked, turning his head toward her.


“Baldwin,” he said, exhaling as he did. “Did you like it? You know, living there?” 

“I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else. I love the beaches and the loud people on them.”

“Me too,” Nate said. “Me too. I’ll probably move down South, though.”


“Well, I go to law school down there. Sometimes you just want something different, you know? I don’t know.”

“Are you excited about it? Being a lawyer?”

Nate laughed. “I mean, it’s a job. Can’t sit and twiddle my thumbs all day.”

“Doesn’t sound like you are excited.” Then she added, “That’s okay.”

Eventually they went back inside, and Zach gave them both a hug when they did. When Stella got home, she saw that Nate had requested her on Instagram. She didn’t accept it until two hours later. He looked better in pictures where he smiled, Stella noticed. His girlfriend Jill wrote long comments with heart emojis in response to his posts.

There’s something about him, Stella thought that night. He had the features she went crazy for: dark eyes and an intelligent smile. He was perceptive, and he had stared at her all night.


“I want to make a toast,” Jill said, standing up from the table, clinking her fork to her glass. Each paper plate had samples of hot dogs, sliders, and pieces of cantaloupe and watermelon.

“To my hard-working boyfriend, Nate. For being a freaking smarty and getting a job as a lawyer in South Carolina, and for somehow still being a nice guy.”

“And for slamming the most beers!” Grady added.

Everyone cheered and Nate smiled. “Thanks, guys.”

“We’ll miss you, bud,” Zach said, and then he wrapped his arm around him.

Nate imagined sitting at his desk cubicle from 9-7 and putting on a navy suit to go to court. The idea didn’t bother him. He didn’t understand his generation and how they expected to love every job they had. Sometimes jobs were just jobs.

They all switched to drinking vodka lemonade and played Uno by the firepit, and naturally, Nate won. Jill leaned on Nate’s shoulder as if he was going to Charleston without her, as if it would be months before they saw each other again. Zach’s hand rested passively on Stella’s thigh and Grady looked at Bells as she held her cards, jumping happily when she had only one left.

While dealing Uno cards, Stella was randomly thinking about her ex, and how he always responded to her questions with another question, like “define that word,” and other evasive nonsense. Nate thought about Jill’s attempts to be kinky that made him suspect she had been watching bad porn. They played games and shared stories until 10pm, and then Grady and Bells drove home, so that Grady could make the late shift at the Tavern. Zach and Stella set up separate sleeping bags on the floor, and Nate and Jill went to their bedroom.

“Want some McDonald’s later?” Nate texted Stella. “Like, much later?”


Stella put on some mascara and reapplied her powder in the bathroom.

“What’s your problem today?” Jill asked Nate while taking her clothes off. She wore a white push-up bra and red lace underwear that she had bought with her employee discount at Victoria’s Secret.

“Nothing,” Nate said. He took his shirt off and turned on the TV. “Just tired, that’s all.”

“I don’t know,” Jill said. “Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re indifferent to life or indifferent to me.”

“Indifferent to life,” Nate said.

“Well, I don’t understand why.”

“Do you want to?”

“Nate, we literally threw a party today. I’m tired.”


Nate drove the way he drank a beer: talking and shrugging while accelerating and switching lanes. His black BMW smelled like a combination of weed, sweat, and cologne. It was 2am, and there was a certain exhilaration to passing each green exit sign on that empty highway. Ever since Nate had messaged Stella, she felt a sense of gratitude. She met someone who took her by surprise, who made her stomach do that thing—an ability she believed she had lost a long time ago. They had been texting (without crossing any lines, but not quite platonically) since that night in Manhattan.

Nate passed the McDonald’s on their left.

“I thought you said you were hungry?”

“I am,” he said. “But let’s go to the beach first. It’s nice out.”

“Which one?”

“Malibu. My grandma and I used to go there.”

The whole thing felt so illicit. Nate got out of the car and opened Stella’s door for her. He held her hand, which felt small in his, and also slightly damp. They walked past the pastel cabanas, the wooden picnic tables and covered grills. Over the steady hum of the night crickets, and the hard waves crashing, they both shared the same nervous breath.

Nate laid his striped towel on the cold sand. They sat down and looked at the water and the white bubbling foam. There was seaweed in the ocean, but in the dark, you couldn’t tell.

“I wonder how oceans were created,” Nate said to fill the silence. Then he looked down and shook his head, as if embarrassed. Stella put her hand on his cheek and kissed him on the mouth.

Nate let out a soft moan that reminded Stella of either a teenage boy or an old man. But he also sounded like a guy who really wanted her, which she liked. He grabbed her breasts with force and put his palms inside of her bra, struggling with the clasp. Stella undid it for him.

He put his mouth on her nipple and grabbed the small of her waist, lifting her body and placing it on the towel as if she was a doll. Nate took a blue Trojan out of his sweatpants pocket and whatever doubt Stella had was short-lived. Soon they were rocking back and forth in a clumsy rhythm. Nate said the usual lines: “fuck, you’re so sexy,” “fuck, you’re so tight,” “I’ve wanted this for so long,” and Stella just responded with her eyes—she didn’t have any lines. Stella hated seeing guys’ faces during sex: they revealed that a prior complexity had been exchanged for something easier.

God, I love this girl, Nate thought fleetingly while he was on top of her. He couldn’t help it. Then he thrusted even harder and got slightly distracted by a dirty-looking seagull down by the water, flying away.

He finished and breathed heavily as he did. Stella was still wet, so Nate mistook that for her being finished, or at least “finished enough.” Stella put her bra and sweatshirt back on, hoping to cuddle on the sand, but Nate just said, “We gotta get back.” This ruined the moment, although the whole thing felt like less of a moment than Stella imagined it would. She thought sleeping with Nate would either be really hot or that rare kind of wholesome. But instead, she just felt like it was high school sex.

“Why?” Stella asked while Nate drove home. She cupped her palm beneath her chin, leaning against his car window.

“What do you mean?”

“Why me? Why did we do this?”

“It just happened,” he said with a carefree smile. “I didn’t expect it.”

Stella sighed. His nonchalance bothered her.

“Yep, no texts from Jill,” Nate said, looking at his phone when he pulled into the driveway. “That girl can sleep through anything.”

“Same with Zach,” Stella said. “Telling.”

Nate took Stella’s hand. “I’ve wanted to be with you like that for a while.”

Stella didn’t respond.

“I just have the feeling I could love you,” Nate said. And he meant it. “You know those people you know you could love but you never do?”

“Yes,” she said. “I do.” Then she kissed him on the cheek, and opened the front door with a soft step. Nate fell asleep with ease and Stella just stared at her ceiling, not quite regretting what happened, but not quite treasuring it, either.


In the morning, Nate brought in a bag of bagels. He ate two and was all smiles, talking about his favorite memories of L.I., about the restaurants and bars he would miss the most. Jill made freshly squeezed orange juice and said it was nice having the boys back together, that everyone would have to visit them in Charleston.

“I know you and Stella are both workaholics though, so we’ll see.”

“We’ll make time,” Zach said, and Stella gave a flat smile.

“Please do,” Nate said. “Thanks for the orange juice, babe,” and then he kissed Jill on the cheek.

Nate looked more radiant that morning than he did the entire day of his party. He talked to Jill with atypical affection and slapped Zach on the back of his shoulder, laughing. He barely looked at Stella the whole morning—not like he was avoiding her, but rather because he no longer had a reason to stare.

Stella wanted to leave. She felt like a craving Nate had satiated, a figment of his imagination that no longer existed. Or was that how she was feeling about Nate? She wanted to leave Zach stranded at the house and drive home with the windows rolled down, with the wind in her hair and the smell of the salty ocean on her skin. Upon hugging Nate goodbye, she didn’t feel emotional or sad: she felt like a lukewarm beer. Nate’s eyes seemed a little empty, when she really looked at them.


A week later, Nate and Jill moved to Charleston. Nate packed his khakis and his notebooks that were all unfilled. It didn’t bother him that they were blank. He bought three new ties, one navy suit and one gray suit, for his office wardrobe. Nate felt like a lawyer. On the surface, he felt like a winner. He posted a picture with Jill, calling her his “special girl.” Stella saw the post, laughed to herself, and had the strong urge to tell him he was lacking. That like her, he was still alone.

Jill became a fashion influencer doing Instagram promotions, and she enjoyed working from her shiny white desk at home while Nate was gone. They had the kind of relationship where Jill would flirt with hot bartenders and not feel guilty about it. Nate never was unfaithful physically, not since Stella, but once in a while he’d meet a girl who stopped him in his tracks, who gave him a glimmer of something real. Then he would go out of his way, to the point of being rude, not to interact with them. Nate and Jill would eat dinner together and superficially discuss their days, until eventually, they stopped having sex with each other. Jill found a guy with an accounting job at Deloitte. Only when she knew he would commit to her did she leave Nate. Jill Everett never returned to Long Island.

Grady and Bells moved in together. They bought a shack-like house in East Islip, and Grady would come home from The Country Tavern at 2am, with Bells waiting up for him every time. He quit his Verizon sales job, became a bar manager, and eventually, a partial owner. The establishment did well, since Grady had a niche for drink specials and Monday night deals. He and Bells stayed together, and for the first time in a while, he didn’t feel that he or his life was mediocre. He didn’t compare himself to his friends anymore.

Three days after Nate’s party, Stella broke up with Zach. She told him their relationship had fizzled, and Zach said “quite frankly, I agree,” then slammed her car door. They still followed each other on Instagram. They reached out on each other’s birthdays and sent the occasional “hope you’re doing well” text. Stella grew to hate that phrase: “I hope you’re doing well.” She had said it to too many people, and only meant it for some. She did hope Nate was doing well, although she suspected he never truly would be. She didn’t hope her ex-boyfriend was doing badly, but she didn’t actively root for him either. She was thankful for what they had. She was thankful for what they never had.

Maybe Stella was one of those girls who would randomly make it big, who sang karaoke at a bar and was discovered by a music producer in the crowd. Someone who wrote a novel for fun and it ended up becoming the next New York Times bestseller. Maybe she’d meet a guy at the grocery store who was the starting pitcher for the Yankees, and she wouldn’t even realize. Or maybe she was just one of those misunderstood girls that guys always noticed but never took a chance on, a distant rose-colored memory in the minds of people she had moved on from. She would escape to New York City, work in a corporate office and wear perfectly tailored black dresses. Then she would return to Long Island when she wanted a reminder of who she once was, of smiles she once knew, and expectations she still believed in.