No Love Lost

Caroline waved as Troy stepped off the 574 from Tacoma. She wore a maroon T-shirt that read Goal Digger and had a zip-up sweater tied around her waist. It was mid-March. Daylight Savings had just begun, but the clock tower at the King Street Station was still an hour behind.

“Suede,” she said, toeing his cowboy boots with her galoshes. “And with rain in the forecast.”

“Suede,” he said, hugging her. “It can’t rain on us now, can it?”

It didn’t and it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t dare rain.

Troy was relatively new to the Northwest. Strangely, the air felt fresher to him before a downpour than after one. He had never been around so little sun or such rabid sports fans. The traffic, also, was bad.

They walked arm-in-arm to PJ’s on Division, one of Seattle’s oldest bars, just two blocks from Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour.

“I can’t believe you’re here!” Caroline said. “I’m honored. Is the city what you imagined?”

Troy picked a cherry blossom out of her hair.

“I thought there’d be more tourists,” he said.

He met Caroline seven years before, since right after his engagement to Paige. They were all living in Westchester, N.Y. at the time. He attended a wedding—without Paige as a plus-one—on Caroline’s family estate in Pleasantville. During the reception and despite his ineligibility, Troy caught the garter while Caroline snatched the bouquet. She did not accidentally kiss him goodbye that night.

“You look terrific,” he said, as a bouncer checked his ID and casually waved her in. “You look fresh.”

“Troy, I write briefs, I run 5Ks. But lately I feel like I can’t write another word, or take another step.”

PJ’s reminded him of the cocktail bars in Manhattan he had frequented in his twenties. It was Caroline’s favorite place in Seattle. She took all her suitors here, and even had most of the songs memorized on the jukebox by their letters and numbers. Lush Life was D12. Rhiannon, A1.

“Dad took me here on my twenty-first,” Caroline said. “This table is very significant to me. I had my very first sip here. Right here.”

She laid her caressing palms on its surface.

“You should have carved your initials into it,” Troy said.

The ceilings were decorative tin and the exposed brick walls soaked up most of the sunlight. On the menu were cocktails named Happy Pinecone, An Apple a Day, Harkonen.

“So, how’s the wifey?”

“That’s a good question.”

“You don’t know?”

Paige had traveled to upstate New York for a reunion. Her family had rented a cabin next to a Hasidic Jewish summer camp, chiefly because it had no cellular reception.

“I’d like to meet her one of these days,” Caroline said.

“You’d love her,” Troy said. “You’d be fast friends.”

He caught Caroline catching glances of herself in the mirror behind him. She was finishing up law school at Seattle Pacific, poring over woefully long texts and international statutes that sounded like German submarines from WWII.

“As a 3L and co-editor of the law review,” she said, “I have to organize a ‘Hundred Days’ party, which is weird because it’s eighty-seven days to graduation, and one hundred and thirty to the Bar Exam, and our professors don’t call it an exam. It’s a quiz. Ha!”

She laughed as if she were being tickled.

“Maybe they’ll draw a smiley face near the score when they hand it back,” Troy said.

Every lawyer he knew did not practice law. One did standup comedy. Another taught yoga.

“I’m only laughing because I can’t cry anymore,” she said. “It’s no cakewalk. I don’t even know what day it is. I’m hanging on by the skin of my skin.”

“At least you have that to hold onto,” Troy said.

“And this,” Caroline said, hoisting her coupe. “Thank God for alcohol.”

She thought she drank heavily, but she didn’t know. She had no idea.

“Hangovers used to be a little easier on us, remember?”

“I was never that young,” Troy said.

“You were famous for it. How old are you now? Thirty-three, thirty-five?”

He nodded.

“I’m thirty,” she said, as if it was far away. “Adulthood isn’t turning out exactly as I had hoped.”

She let out a sigh, almost inaudible. Her exhale nearly scalded him. He wanted to tell her that the unpleasantness wasn’t behind her, but ahead. That there was no time unless she wrested it from the time she’d already wasted, loitering in school, waiting for things to happen.

“Let’s close out,” she said. “I want to show you around town.”

She excused herself to the john while Troy carefully inspected and paid the bill. They walked out of PJ’s holding hands. The skyscrapers were shiny. Seattle felt fresh but used.

“Don’t tell anyone,” Caroline whispered, “but I got you a little souvenir.”

She removed a small vial from her purse. It was a pepper shaker from PJ’s.

“You shouldn’t have,” he joked.

“I steal hearts, too,” she said.

Troy kissed her right then. He couldn’t help it. It was as if their lips were grafted together. He knew she liked her hair pulled. She tasted like flavorless chapstick and spearmint, faintly.

“This is why I’m never without gum,” she said afterwards, taking a breath. “And you’re like a human furnace in that jacket. Aren’t you warm? What are you hiding under there?”

Troy only had on short-sleeves underneath. He recoiled when Caroline reached in and unbuttoned his shirt.

“I want to see,” she insisted.

“I don’t know. I’m a little deeper-chested these days,” he said.

“So am I. Five pounds.” Caroline adjusted her bra, clasped in the front. “All of it went right here.” Her heart lived under there, somewhere.

After a breezy tour of Pike’s Place—past Beecher’s cheese shop, the Gum Wall, the very first Starbucks—she led Troy to a wine bar with an outside patio and a shuffleboard court, seemingly ideal for a legitimate rendezvous, like business lunches, or first dates.

“Damn the Weather,” Caroline said. “Surpassing blends. And, four stars on Yelp.”

“I must take Paige here,” Troy said.

They selected a carafe of the house cab. Several tables over and within earshot, an elderly couple dined on charcuterie with menus resting on their walkers, eating slowly, more silent than the p in psoriasis.

“To us.” Caroline raised her glass garishly. “To the new yuppies.”

They were in luck: they had caught some late sunshine. In it, Caroline’s earrings glinted and swung like tiny chandeliers. They did not look expensive—a pair of unpolished spiral loops—but Troy didn’t know much about jewelry. Paige’s ears were unpierced. She preferred flowers.

“May I?” Troy asked.

He touched her earlobes. The hoops spun. Caroline winced.

“Dad got these for me when I left high school. I know they’re not pretty, but I’m sentimental, obviously.”

“How are you holding up?”

“I think about him every day,” she said. “They told me he died doing what he loved. I don’t think they say that to Army families.”

“I don’t think you ever told me how it happened.”

“Osprey,” she said. “Clipped the deck of an aircraft carrier. And . . . yeah. Pretty quick. Last week, the investigators asked if I wanted to listen to his cockpit recorder.”

“Did you?”

“I couldn’t. What if he was scared?” She emptied her glass, down to the lees. “What if his last words weren’t words?”

“I can empathize,” Troy said.

“Should we order another carafe?” Her tongue was the color of plum. “Wine is essential for anyone who’s lost a parent.”

“Or two,” Troy said.

“I forgot. Oh, I’m sorry.” She bit her lip. “You are a special case.”

It was unfair of him to say it in the first place. Caroline had so much going on in her life, too much to hear the boring details about Perry and Kathleen’s car accident and the trip Troy made to Jack London’s grave in Glen Ellen with their remains. They used to read The Call of the Wild to him at bedtime and Troy wanted other people making the pilgrimage to the great man’s gravesite—not a grave so much as a hunk of granite at the end of a footpath, a sorcerer’s stone—to also, unknowingly, make a pilgrimage to his parents’ place of rest. It was 112 degrees the day he deposited their ashes; Troy was more afraid of rattlesnakes than of getting caught. He didn’t see Caroline often enough for her to know things this intimate, like the fact that Perry and Kathleen were safe people who had died with their seat belts on, after a family dinner where they joked about drunk driving. Or that their marriage was like a book so old that every page fell out as you turned it. Caroline didn’t deserve that part of him that he would otherwise save for Paige, when she was around. His wife.

“I was just thinking,” Troy said.


“We’ve only seen each other seven times, total.”

Caroline was skeptical. He listed them. Eighteen holes at Bethpage Black. Ping-pong on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel in the West Village. Three headliners at Coachella Music Fest. The somnolent wine train along the Finger Lakes. The night at the Hotel del Coronado when she said that if a couple stared into one another’s eyes for four minutes it was love, and then didn’t last forty seconds before room service arrived. Her friend’s wedding.

“And this,” Troy said, taking her hand in his, until she withdrew it.

“Do you feel guilty?”


“Do you think Paige has a lover?”

“It’s not in her character,” he said. “I imagine a married woman has to flirt twice as hard.”

Marrying Paige had been like buying a refurbished refrigerator. It was serviceable. No warranty.

“But you love her.”

“I do love her.”

“And it’s a life sentence.”

“And I’m happy,” Troy said.

“And happily married people have affairs.”

In the strongest of passions, there is neither respite nor mercy. Caroline had a narcotic effect on him. She had made his life more elastic. At sixteen, her father had let her drive cross country, by herself, because he wanted her to know that the world was safe for adventure. Whereas Troy had grown up afraid. He was raised on and by fear. Every drop of rain was acid rain. Every fly was the Medfly.

By 6:30 p.m. the outdoor tables began to fill. A waiter edged by and Troy signed his name in the air instead of asking for the check. He paid this time with cash, with crisp bills he kept in a leather billfold with his father’s name embroidered inside, in gold leaf. Perry had kept everything in it: receipts, newspaper cartoon clippings, bet slips on longshot ponies from the old Hollywood Park. He showed these to Caroline, explaining what a $2 win meant, what a boxed trifecta involved, who Sally Forth was.

“Could these be winning horses?” she asked, smoothing out the wrinkles in the slips.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “They’re expired.”

When the change arrived, it blew off the table, onto Caroline’s feet. She bent down and put it in her pocket.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You need money?”


“I thought there had been a settlement.”

Caroline hung her head.

“The lawyers all got it,” she said.

“I wish I had met him, you know.”

“Didn’t you meet Dad at my place, when we first met?”

“He was deployed,” Troy said.

“Naturally,” she replied. “He’d have liked you.”

“Think so?”

She emptied her purse out on the table to prove it. In amongst her tampons and stain removers was a small, framed photo of a flier in a scarf and chunky shoe-black eyeglasses that made his face look craggy. His name was Bruce; he was Irish; she had gotten his looks. Irish babies cry with a brogue, he told her later, and he made sure to fill the family scrapbooks so she had a sense of who she was and where she came from. There were, in contrast, so few pictures of Perry and Kathleen. Troy didn’t know who he looked more like, who he took after. He knew that he was supposed to have a brother, and that when describing the miscarriage, his father simply told him: The stork flies over but it does not always deliver. He knew that their lives were measured by milestones and paychecks. That they took short vacations together: weekends in Reno, last-minute cruises out of Galveston, yearning to misbehave, but tamely. He wished they were still around, just so he could get them on the phone, just once, not to tell them he loved them—they knew that already—so much as to ask them how they made their vows work until death. Because he wanted to break his and Paige’s, almost on a nightly basis.

They headed back toward the waterfront. Caroline was in the middle of recalling a funny childhood memory when she interrupted herself.

“Oh, no.”


“My earrings,” she said.

They had fallen out somehow. Caroline insisted on retracing their steps. She looked in every vestibule, asked each bartender, scoured every Lost and Found. Troy had never seen such fruitless tenacity, but he scanned the sidewalks with her for what felt like hours, crouched in gutters, accosting strangers, until she sat down on a bench in Pioneer Square to rest.

“It’s like losing Dad all over again,” she said.

Troy wanted to remind her that she had a large piece of him still: The Black Box. There wasn’t one in his parents’ Prius.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “What can I do?”

“I don’t know.” Her shoulders dropped. “Ice cream sounds good right about now.”

They both yawned, as if it were contagious. Troy checked his watch.

“8:55. The last bus is in twenty minutes. I should go.”

“No,” she said.

“I really should.”

“Just come home with me.”

All night, Troy felt like he was playing catch with an autographed baseball.

“Are you sure?” he said.

“Might as well,” she shrugged.

She lived with her mother in Queen Anne. They called for a car.

“Here’s the thing,” Caroline said in the Uber. “Mom’s awake, she knows you’re married. You’ll have to climb up the back wall.”


“Unless you want to sleep on the couch.”

“I’m fine,” he said.

“A wall,” she said. “Not a fence.”

The driver’s route brushed up against the Space Needle. It was not a city Troy could imagine or recognize. New York made him want to eat life; Chicago, drink it; Los Angeles, film it. Seattle made him take it for granted. It’s what made the Northwest an excellent choice: there was nowhere else to go. He and Paige had lived in or vetoed every other city, even those they’d never been to, sight unseen. Seattle was the greenhouse without windows they had been looking for, the snow globe without snow.

“She wants to settle down here,” Troy said.

“Is that why you’re here? Scouting the joint?” Caroline smacked her lips. “Oh, Paige. How do you get there?”

“Where? Five years of marriage?” He didn’t know the answer himself.

“No,” she said. “How do you become so apathetic to your husband that you can’t call him from a payphone?”

Happy spouses share top billing in a marriage. Paige was quite a woman, redoubtable in her opinions, more complex than nuclear fission. Troy could have defended her. There was a lot to defend. Her morality wasn’t situational, like his. Infidelity was more taboo for Paige than blackface, and she had one of those last names—Plog—that other girls got married to get rid of. But she kept hers. She didn’t buckle.

“Driver, I have a problem with this,” Caroline said as the car pulled to a stop.

The fare was higher than they had been quoted. It was because she had selected a larger vehicle, an SUV instead of a Town Car. Still, she talked it down.

“I almost forgot I’m a lawyer,” she said.

Troy unbuckled her belt, and his.

“You have to pass the quiz first,” he said.

Her mother’s townhouse was part of a newer tract with a view of Puget Sound. The streets were lined with oleanders, eucalyptus, an Eden of invasive species. The motion detectors were sensitive and Troy could see Caroline watching from inside her room as he went around back—past the Beware of Dog and Trespassers Will Be Composted caution signs—and surveyed the six-foot cinderblock wall protecting her from guys like him, trying to find a foothold.

It took him a minute to scramble up. She gave him a golf-clap as he leapt down.

“Not a fence,” he said, huffing.

“Told you,” she said.

Her bedroom was decorated in chiffon and Monet. They were close enough to ignite each other. Her nightgown was so lovely, he nearly tore it to shreds. She had the complexion of a Jordan almond. He found a butterfly tattooed on the small of her back. She pivoted, to show him everything, her every angle.

“Your turn,” she said.

Troy removed his belt. He didn’t have to unbutton his shirt to show her the popsicle-red medallions covering his forearms, welts of all sizes, small as colibri, nebulous as a bruise. It was dry skin. It was genetic. It wasn’t contagious, he said. But Caroline looked as if she had smashed open a piggy bank and found nothing inside.

“Please,” Troy said. “I’m incarcerated inside this body.”

He rubbed his forearms, child-like, as if touching them would make the eczema go away.

“Let’s just go to bed,” she said.

He turned off the light so Caroline wouldn’t have to look at it. He explained how he had tried to overcome it with every steroid imaginable, and how it had migrated, like he had, west and then north, from his legs up to his torso.

“It’s a shame,” she said.

They slept. Her snoring woke him up several times. At 6 a.m. she wiped her eyes, pulled back the covers and leapt out.

“Hiking trip,” she said. “In Bellingham. I totally forgot.”

Troy dressed as she put on her makeup. He left the way he came in. The wall seemed to have grown ten feet overnight. He hoped her memory of the evening would dissolve, like an antacid tablet, or that she’d forgive him for his corrupt skin and for opening and closing his marriage whenever he wanted to. Two months later, as an apology and with congratulations, he mailed Caroline a graduation gift (his invitation to her Hundred Days party hadn’t arrived in the mail, for some reason): a copper bangle in the shape of a feather that she would never wear because the metal turned her flesh green.