Alex knew of Rory and of the “incident,” as he referred to it, between her and Richard. "Very few women will admit to wanting anything," he’d said when Richard first confided in him several years ago. How long ago, Richard no longer remembered; all he knew was that the weight of it had lifted under his friend’s understanding. Some of it, anyway.
“They are a mercenary bunch, and, to paraphrase the eloquent Sam Beckett, useful for nothing but fucking. You had your pleasure, friend, I wouldn’t concern myself further. She ought to be grateful that anyone even noticed her. Her mother, from what I’ve heard, has all but disowned her for turning up that little nose of hers at the family tradition of being a good little girl and marrying well. Her trust fund is locked up soundly until she’s forty. Re-invested is the word used, though. In her mother’s eyes, she’s a little hellion. If the country club gossips are to be believed, that is.”
Richard replayed that conversation in his mind as he drove to the South Side. From the Forest lay on the seat next to him, with the page containing Rory’s latest essay, dog-eared and crumpled from being read and reread.
Alex was right, of course. Most women were mercenary, particularly the ones who knew that he, Richard, was not only the stepson to Senator Charles Sarazen, but also friends with the sole Webster heir. Rory was one of the few who seemed unimpressed with his connection to the Sarazen and Webster names, and it was one of the reasons he’d liked her so much. She hadn’t been after the money or glamour that people thought came with his position. Just him, just his company.
I like being with you, she said one night when they first started dating. You don’t waste your time trying to impress me with your family’s connections or trying to buy me with jewels. How could he? Not when she was a Haverly. My mother says we’re like the Kennedys, but I don’t think we have enough money for that, she’d laughed softly, with just a slight mocking edge. He knew she didn’t care about money. So utterly unlike the girls who pretended that money meant nothing while they talked about presents that sparkled just so in the light and how they would show their gratitude for such trinkets.
He remembered smiling at Rory that night, taking her hand and just holding it while they drove along in the truck he’d bought with money saved from the summer job his stepfather had forced him to take. They’d been heading to the drive-in where he hoped he could steal a kiss or two. If he was lucky, she’d let him do more. Back then, he was willing to take his time, unwilling to scare away the girl who sat beside him, her eyes so full of trust.
Then why did she write about that other night, their last night? Why didn’t she remember the fun they had instead? Sharing popcorn and a pop, laughing at the same jokes. Why did she have to write about their last date when it all went to hell? Why did she have to take that writer’s brain of hers and splash his mistake all over for the whole world to read?
God knows, all those books she buries her face in have women who want a man to tell them what to do and say. Those novels were full of women forced into the marriage bed by wiser men. Invariably these women fell in love afterwards, learning through passion what they needed most. Was he any worse than those fictional lovers? All he’d done was try to please her.
Pulling into a parking space two blocks away, the nearest one he could find, Richard shut off the engine and laid his head on the steering wheel, listening to nothing but the occasional car or pedestrian pass by. Inhaling through his nose, exhaling through his mouth, inhaling and exhaling, slowly. He noticed how muted everything sounded with the windows closed. Footsteps. Motors. Voices. There but not, passing him by. I’m invisible. No one knows I’m here, in this car. The same way no one saw him waiting for Julie. No wonder no one saw him take her and drag her away. She should have fought harder. She should have screamed. The detectives believed a stranger took her. Someone who blindsided her before she knew what was happening. Who was it, Jules? Who took you from me?
The passersby kept walking, just as he imagined they passed by Julie’s killer that night. Sometimes he caught a glimpse in his peripheral vision. Feet and legs, perhaps a purse or backpack or briefcase. Never the full person. He could feel the steering wheel in his hands; his fingers curled around it tightly. Pull yourself together, he finally told himself. Go see Alex. He won’t dick around. He’ll understand. After a few more deep breaths, Richard sat back up and shook his head to clear it. He rolled up the magazine and shoved it in his back pocket.
Two blocks, must be the closest I’ve gotten to park yet.
Julie had once told him how she and Rory wanted to live down here. Why they'd wanted a cramped, crowded, nowhere-to-park neighborhood like the South Side was beyond him. Hands jammed in his jeans pockets , head down, he walked as quickly as he could, eager to get inside and show Alex what Rory had written. He wanted to know if Alex would like it or call her that word, the one that once caused his mother to slap him across the face hard enough to send him staggering. He hadn’t said it since, regardless of whether or not his mother was present. If she didn’t like it, he doubted Rory would. And he didn’t want to fall into the habit of using it, then have it slip the next time they talked.
The next time? When would that be? She’d probably decide to write that he threatened her. Man-Made, Part II, Return of the Uninspired Idiot, he thought, kicking a broken piece of sidewalk and watching the small chunk roll and bounce along a few feet ahead of him. When he came to it again, he kicked it again. It’s all her fault. The anger welled back up. She ruined everything. A third kick of the rock sent it off the sidewalk and into the side of a parked car. His head down, he kept walking.
The loft’s door was unlocked. He shoved it open, not bothering to knock.
“Look at this!”
Richard hurled the magazine at Alex, who acknowledged him and the magazine that landed three feet short, with an absent nod. “I’ll be with you in a minute. This stuff’s due tomorrow.”
Alex was hunched over his laptop, pounding out his master’s thesis. The top of the antique dining room table that he used as a desk was – as always – immaculately organized despite being covered with law texts, yellow legal pads, pencils, and stacks of research. A beer mug filled with cola was sweating onto what looked like someone else’s thesis. “Good to see you, by the way.”
Richard retrieved the magazine and flipped it on top of the keyboard, deliberately halting Alex’s progress. “Read this bullshit! Alex, you aren’t going to fucking believe it.”
“A charmer with the English language as always,” Alex said dryly, absently, pushing the magazine aside. The soft click of the keys filled the silence as he finished his written thought. “If you’re referring to page thirteen, I already read it. Your little thorn is quite the author, if I do say so myself.”
Collapsing into an armchair that, like everything else in the loft, had been taken from the Webster family’s Pittsburgh estate during Victoria Kennedy Webster’s most recent re-decorating binge, Richard stared at the ceiling. “Whatever. She said I raped her – and now she’s published it! She’s gone too far. Sometimes I hate her, Alex.” He stopped, wondering if he should tell his friend the rest. “Sometimes I just think I ought to find her and make her the sorriest little bitch that ever walked this earth.” Sometimes. Other times, he wanted her in his arms just once more.
Alex’s fingers never paused until he hit save and turned the machine off. Only then did he speak again: “Enlighten me, friend, as to why you even give a damn. She’s nothing. No one. Her own mother barely speaks to her. And this,” using his thumb and forefinger, he picked up the magazine and tossed it to the floor, “this rag sits unread in libraries and coffeehouses. No one cares what’s in it. Like her, this is nothing. She was a mouse as a child, as bland as they come. I doubt she’s changed.”
Richard focused his efforts on removing some dried paint from his jeans. “She’s engaged to that prick DeLuca. I can’t see that lasting.”
“Lots of reasons.”
Richard replied with a shrug. Paul DeLuca would never take the time to know her, for starters. He probably took her out, wined and dined her and tried to impress her with everything that never impressed her. Richard knew that Paul would never take the time to understand what made her tick. He’d force her to change, if he hadn’t already. Paul was exactly what Rory didn’t need in a man, not for the long haul. She needed someone who would encourage her and share her art. Like he would have.
Alex raised an eyebrow, leaned back in his chair, and abruptly changed the subject. “Any news on your sister? It’s been two years since she was taken.”
Richard’s picking stopped and he looked at the man who might have been his brother-in-law, his expression plainly showing his pain, “Twenty-two months. Almost two years. Nothing.”
He paused. Alex waited patiently, his dark eyes never leaving Richard, who now chewed on his thumbnail. Finally, Richard finished his thought, “She was my best friend, you know. Charles was such a dick while we were growing up, but at least she and I had each other and didn’t have to go it alone. Aw, shit, Alex. You know, I don’t get it. She just vanished. Poof! Just left that dance club, like anyone else that night.”