On the diving board at Blaine’s, Brooke sits, one leg swinging out over the swimming pool’s edge, the other tucked under her, as Blaine plays his guitar. It’s starless out, the only visible light, shining over the back door of Blaine’s parents’. Where she and Blaine are, there is only shimmering light refracting from the pool.
Blaine is playing an unfamiliar tune, maybe composing something, mumbling to himself. She does not ask him to amplify or explain the words, only watches his pale profile, black hair straddling one eye as he hovers over the strings of the beautiful, classical instrument his parents gave him before taking off for Italy this summer of 1972.
At the start of the diving board, where Blaine sits in his white shirt, navy trousers, and jacket, on a slate tile, next to his leather brogues he wears without socks, is the Magnum Bollinger Champagne bottle he brought for Brooke’s birthday and his still half-full glass. Having drained her glass a while ago, Brooke now busies herself lighting a cigarette slipped out of her beige Coach clutch in which are a packet of Marlboros, a gold lighter, a peach lipstick, and a gloss. She is wearing a sleeveless top, a shade darker than the light pink sweater over her shoulders, jeans, and Pappagallo shoes that match her top. Her shoulder-length chestnut hair is down for the evening.
“Nice,” she says, intuiting a compliment should be given, then fondles her mother’s pearls, a kind of anchor for her. Blaine sees her scoot forward, reach for the champagne bottle, so he sets his guitar aside and takes the bottle first, pours her another glass, downs his own, and pours himself another.
“To sweet 18.” Their glasses clink again.
“16 is sweet, 18, bitter,” she says.
“It’s sweet to me. I graduate Yale next June.”
“Then you’ll be old. Then what?”
“Wall Street, of course.”
She raises her glass to him, thinking how men don’t have time to figure who they are, but the thought, “I’m glad to be a girl,” does not follow. For her, the future is both set and uncertain. She is confident of her beauty, yet not sure what she will barter it for, or of what she will do to satisfy her own yearnings, which are right now merely a series of insecure tethers that absorb only her, even as they worm their way out to the world.
Were she to follow the imperatives of her mother, her class, and generation, her path would be crystal clear, but she resists this, not openly yet, but in her mind, where, in private moments, she steers clear of the conventional, exploring forbidden topics and books, and for the time being asking numerous, odd questions of herself and others to whom she longs to confide her wayward thoughts and ideas. What is love, she often asks her own mirror reflection. There is never an answer, although the unspoken one, love is how you look, is what she believes will determine everything.
Blaine’s parents and hers have known each other forever. Their fathers graduated the same year from Yale, play golf together. Blaine was her date for the Laurel Ball and other coming-out parties. Safe, predictable, he is also remote, inaccessible when it comes to intimacy, although he is not alone in this. Among her moneyed friends, a kind of interpersonal coolness pervades, a coolness of not caring or wanting to know what lies beneath or beyond the surface of their privilege. Brooke has no doubt Blaine’s parents and hers expect they will marry and procreate, the mere idea of which sends shivers through her.
She wonders whether Blaine has entertained the notion of what that would look like, coming home to a household of snotty-nosed kids, a wife bound to dull routines, a life in which banal conversation is replaced by the TV. Such a future is unthinkable, unbearable for her.
Is she the only one who has registered the examples of failed marriages and lives all around that while erased from conversation have not been erased from her mind? How the year before, a divorcee, friend of her parents, a pariah at the club due to her being single again, overdosed on pills. How when Brooke was a junior, an alcoholic neighbor abandoned by her husband, hung herself with a bra strap. How just weeks before, Brooke’s mother’s best friend, an artist whose husband always travels, shot herself and was found after school by her son, a friend of Brooke’s brother, Chad. What she knows to be true versus what others perceive as right and wonderful, vie like night and day, oil and water.
Seeing Brooke hug herself, Blaine removes his jacket and hands it to her.
“What makes you go?” she asks him, as she settles it around her shoulders.
“What drives you? Aren’t there days when you wish everybody would just disappear and you could just be somewhere different? I mean, we’re in school most of our lives, subject to whose idea of education? When are we supposed to think for ourselves, be ourselves?”
“Isn’t learning how to think what they taught you at Rye Country Day?”
“Don’t patronize me. I mean, haven’t you ever thought of traveling for a year, going into the Peace Corps or something?”
“The Peace Corps is for people who don’t yet know what they’re going to do with themselves. Fortunately, I do know.”
“Right. Good for you. I’ll be in Paris next June. You should join me.” She wants to poke him, confuse his smug attachment to his future. Besides, she senses, despite his aloofness, that he’s attracted to her.
He picks up his guitar and strums a strong chord. “Really? And what would we do there?”
“Be,” she wants to say. But that would be deep and therefore testy. He would then humiliate her for going over the edge of where they are supposed to tread — so many unspoken rules and walls no one dares breach.
“It’s getting late,” she yawns. “We should go.”
He looks at his watch, but before he can say anything, she explains, “I promised dad we’d play tennis early tomorrow. He’s only home for a few days.” Blaine puts his guitar aside again and extends a hand to help her up.
In his Jag, Blaine doesn’t switch on the music and Brooke doesn’t ask him to, fixing instead on the busy dashboard lights that look more like they belong in an aircraft. Blaine drives way too fast, like he’s alone behind the wheel, and although Brooke is intimidated and frightened a little by this, she won’t say so for fear of appearing like a wimp. She can feel the dark weight of his thoughts as he drives, thoughts and energy she does not know that push her even further from him than she already feels.
When they reach the top of the drive to her parents’, she places a gentle hand on his right forearm and thanks him for the champagne. Outside the car, she leans in through the window to invite him to a pool party Sunday. “Just Eliza, Gigi, Gigi’s brother Todd, and Chad. Cocktails, swimming, snacks. Six o’clock. See you then.” By the time she gets to the entrance, she is already thinking of what awaits on her nightstand — Anais Nin’s House of Incest, and under that, Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, fodder for her deviating mind.
Tomorrow, Brooke’s younger brother is playing tennis with their dad, not her. She herself is going on a date with Kip, swimming at Laurel Reservoir, and later, maybe a movie.
Kip is sexy, rides a motorbike, has wiry sun-tinted curls like Jim Morrison. His section of his parents’ mansion is the size of a small ranch house, with its own kitchen, two bedrooms, bath, porch, and den. Although Brooke and Kip have been dating on and off for a year, Brooke has yet to meet either his mother, who works as a real estate agent, or his younger sister, who is a swimming star headed for the Olympics.
Kip’s family is nouveau riche. His mother is French Canadian, and she and Brooke’s mother, who is French, play tennis occasionally and belong to the same Women’s Club. Unlike her and Blaine, Kip did not attend private schools but the local public high school, a fact that matters not a whit to Brooke, although it does to some of her friends.
Kip picks her up at noon in his Triumph motorbike, wearing Wrangler boots, jeans, and a jean jacket over a plain white tee. She has on white bell-bottom jeans and a tank top over her bathing suit and has secured a Bulgari scarf around her head for the ride. Kip cruises the winding roads like she and his motorcycle are worth preserving, allowing her to enjoy the passing scenery of white-fenced and stone-walled mansions and their abundant surrounding greenery. They park midway around the reservoir. Kip dives from a rock in the nude, and she keeps her bikini on as they swim back and forth, fool around a little, then float on their backs to catch the full sun. Far away, a small boat can be seen, and a little laughter drifts over, otherwise they are entirely alone. They stretch out on a flat rock to dry off and share a smoke as the warm breeze trills the leaves. As he lies on his stomach, gazing at her, Kip mentions he is planning to fly to Mexico for ludes the following week.
“Is that all you’re going for?”
“Mostly. You can tag along.”
“No, thanks. Bring me something though. Quaaludes are like Valium, right?”
At his place, after they’ve had sex, Kip mixes each of them a gin and tonic, strutting around bare-chested, just in jeans, while she lies naked on his bed, listening to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. After sipping the strong drink and taking the lude he offers, she lies back for the sensual experience of the drugs and music, the combination of which arouses curious sensations. At one point, she feels like her body leaves the room, then hovers over the town, then the planet. As if to jolt her, Kip jumps on the bed. His curls halo his pretty face, his eyes are hazy and bloodshot as he peers down at her, a plain, dark brown leather cord with two strands barely dangling from his neck. He tokes a joint and extends it to her.
“No thanks. I’m already wrecked.”
“Cool. I knew you’d dig it.” He runs one hand along her naked side. “You’ve got a great tan,” he says.
She smiles and asks about the acrylic portrait in black and red of a half-man, half-woman, newly up on one wall. Kip says it was “for art at school.” It’s both interesting and confusing, good and bad, like he is. Kip makes her feel good, she decides, in a banal, uncomplicated kind of way. It’s nice having sex with him, hanging out in his room, listening to great music through giant speakers, and riding behind him on his motorbike.
With some effort, Brooke gets up, pulls back her hair, slips on her clothes. Kip dons a jean shirt that matches his eyes. They share some yogurt and nibble on cheese crackers, then head out to see A Clockwork Orange, a movie that makes Brooke cringe and feel even more disoriented. She wonders what the giant cock on the screen is about. The images turn her off, although Kip laughs at nearly every scene as if he is in on some joke she is not.
After Kip drops her off, Brooke appraises the day while lying on her bed, still feeling discombobulated, feet up on a wall, gazing at the pale pink chinoiserie blooms of her wallpaper, which for some reason always make her feel cool, collected, and fine. Brooke decides that while she is ultimately bored by Kip too, she likes what they do together more than what she and Blaine do. Sighing, her eyes scan the pale ceiling. Tomorrow, Saturday, she and Jon are seeing Nina Simone at Alice Tully Hall.
She and Jon share a rapport, conversing about music and literature. Brooke enjoys talking with him more than she enjoys conversing with either Blaine or Kip, as Jon is smart, bookish, and darkly handsome. He comes from a middle-class family and, from what Brooke can gather, has no plans for college, although she believes he told her he is 22. They met at a local bar. Like her, Jon is fascinated by The Beats, worships Kerouac, and has himself published a short story in some literary magazine, a fact that impressed her somewhat. Brooke was shocked and delighted to learn he not only likes Aretha Franklin and Odetta, as she does, but also the great Nina Simone, and has most of her records. The fact he is almost deaf in one ear has for some reason only served to endear him to her.
For not having come from money, Jon’s attempts to woo her are impressive. They go into the city in a hired limo, in which there is a bar, so he can make cocktails. The concert itself is odd like the artist, whose music does not disappoint even if her antics leave the audience befuddled. As they depart, a man springs onto the stage to sing and Simone resumes her virtuoso act at the piano.
After the concert, she and Jon dine in a small Italian restaurant, in which they are feted with expensive wine, due to the fact the restaurant manager is a relative of Jon’s. Brooke would like to go over the concert’s highlights, but Jon is moved to tell her about his novel in progress, for a moment striking a familiar disappointing chord as, for once, Brooke would like the conversation to go her way. She distracts herself watching him remove his jacket and roll up his shirt sleeves, leaning in politely as she sips on her Chateau Pontet-Canet. How can it be, she wonders, that a man’s exposed forearms, their manly hair, the ordinary Timex on his right wrist, can exude such presence, competence, strength? He speaks as if to a gathering, hands gesticulating, eyes roving the room. In a quiet moment, perhaps to include herself a little, she politely inquires which is his bad ear.
“My left, which is why I always place pretty women on that side. Beautiful women should always be seen not heard,” he smiles, patting her hand resting before him on the white table cloth, unaware he has said something so offensive to her, she is left speechless, blood rushing to her face.
“No offense to you, of course, as you are both incredibly attractive and smart. It’s just something my father used to say.” But the damage has been done. In Brooke’s mind is only the wreckage of his goal for them to stay at The Beacon, his game plan for their future. In seconds, her mind folds them up and disposes of them.
“You know, Jon. I don’t know if I mentioned, mother is ill. I promised to check on her. I wonder if there’s a phone booth?” A passing waiter points to the rear of the room. She deposits her napkin on her chair, departs with her clutch.
In the Ladies Room, Brooke adjusts her hair, applies gloss to her lips, reviews the sequence of lies in her mind. When she returns, their dinner is there, lobster for him and her scallops and risotto. He is already eating, and as she sits, she tells him, “Jon, I’m afraid I can’t stay. She’s taken a turn for the worse. I need to be there. Don’t worry. I’ll grab a taxi.”
He is so flummoxed, a prism of emotions flashes across his face, and he scrambles for words, eventually determining to have their meals packed, so he can ferret Brooke back to New Canaan in the limo. On the way back, Brooke mentions how lovely the concert, how generous his invitation, but refuses the packed meal he extends when they arrive at her place.
“It was a mistake,” she says. “I shouldn’t have gone into the city with you. I’m sorry. Take care,” after which it is clear by Jon’s fallen expression he knows very well this is their last time together.
By the time Blaine gets to Brooke’s the next day, all but the chips and a triangle of Brie and crackers remain on the snacks table. Chad and Todd have consumed most of the hot dogs they both grilled, and the scent of meat lingers in the air. Brooke, in a white bikini to show off her tan, greets Blaine with a hot dog reserved for him. He takes a bite of it from her hand as he slips off his slacks and a low cut short-sleeved shirt, underneath which he sports a pair of loose Vilebrequin shorts with a turtle design. He has a nice body, Brooke decides, with little tufts of hair on his chest and just above the line of his shorts under his belly button, although he is very pale. Chad brings out a Heineken for him, and Brooke jumps back into the pool and swims to the deep end, where Gigi and Eliza are conferring about something. Eliza, who is blonde, athletic, and a little dim, wants to know if Chad is seeing anybody.
“He’s only 16, Eliz.”
“I know, but he’s so cute. Tell me, who’s he dating?”
“I really don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.”
“Looks to me like he’s interested in Blaine,” says Gigi, eyeing them from afar. Chad has an arm around Blaine as they head to the pool house.
“You’re such spazzes!” They have a little splashing war. The three do a couple of laps, then race, with Eliza winning twice, and Brooke once while the threesome of males in the pool house shares a joint and peruses albums. When it gets dark, the light inside the pool switches on and Blaine dives in, and Eliza and Gigi step out, and huddle, towels over their shoulders, near the portable bar, where Todd is concocting Margaritas. Chad drops an ice cube down Eliza’s back, making her scream. Blaine joins Brooke at the far end of the pool as she revels in both the sultry sensation of the water and the warmth from the light shining directly on her rump underwater beneath the diving board. Blaine swims up to her and she watches him perform chin-ups using the diving board end. Coming up out of the water, his shorts slip enough for her to see what he has been hiding so assiduously, right after which Brooke lets herself sink to the bottom and swim underwater to the shallow end. As she emerges, Gigi tosses her a towel. Brooke is about to call Blaine out to join them for Margaritas, but he is swimming laps. She, Gigi, and Eliza count 32, before he too emerges.
This is the last time she and Blaine will ever have anything like a date. Brooke won’t speculate about why. There will be no need to lie or explain. Eventually, they will run into one another at some party and chitchat as they always have, like friends. She knows he knows she will remain discreet about what she saw, as what they also share in common is a certain filial devotion, a trait of their class, inherited, like something in the blood, that will keep her from ever being disloyal.