Joyland

New York |

So Was Love

by J.T. Price

edited by Kyle Lucia Wu

There was going to be a war and Luke had a movie coming out. It was unclear which would go on first. Luke voiced fierce opposition to the war at parties and shouted at the TV in his Santa Monica high-rise when news anchors spoke of troop build-up and hidden WMDs. He could not stand listening to the president speak and would mute the TV whenever that man appeared on screen, before filling the room with what he imagined the president saying, an improvised speech, usually touching on past addictions or praising the Lord or confessions of incontinence. Davis said, “You at least have to hear the guy out,” and Luke said, “I don’t have to anything. That clown makes me sick.”

Davis went with Luke and Luke’s new girlfriend, Delilah, and Delilah’s friend, Cynthia, to protest the likelihood of war. Other actors attended the march outside the Federal Building in downtown L.A., some very famous ones, and Luke cut his way through the mass of protesters to find people he knew from the industry, using his cell phone as a beacon. A few teens recognized him from the show he had been on despite the hoodie he was wearing and the Dodgers cap pulled low over his eyes. The show, Bits & Pisces, though cancelled, had achieved cult status with those Luke’s age or just below it. Luke scribbled an exaggerated signature with enormous loops on the ‘G’ and the ‘B’ on the back of one of the girl’s protest signs. Both wore leather jackets and white shirts over their dark-colored bras and many bracelets around their wrists, and one had on a derby hat and the other dark blue eye-shadow. Davis eyed his own sneakers and put his hands in the pockets of his gray windbreaker as Luke let them fawn. “You’re so gorgeous!” said one, riveted by the manifestation of her boldness. They looked like kids playing dress-up after watching a music video. Their sign read in black and pink, WAR = HATE / LOVE IS 4 REAL.

“Is that your girlfriend?” the girls were saying to Luke, reaching out to touch Delilah’s bare arm.

“She’s my friend and she’s a girl,” said Luke, winking. Delilah reached over with one hand to pull on the strings of his hoodie.

Cynthia caught Davis’s eye, and Davis took Luke’s elbow from the other side and said, “Hey, we should go, right?” Cynthia gave a subtle smile. She had elegant features, a thin upper lip.

An actor who played the president of the United States on a popular TV show made a speech broadcast over loudspeakers outside the Federal Building, complimenting the crowd for being there and for showing that people in America cared and that just because a real-life president had the military-industrial complex clamoring for action did not mean he had to use it. “Power isn’t only about what you do. It’s about what you choose not to do. There’s a choice!” he cried, voice breaking, so that for a moment Davis thought of the age and frailty of this man whom he had grown up watching in movies. “There’s always a choice. That’s why we hope!” Luke clapped and shouted his support with a degree more enthusiasm than Davis felt a real protester would have. Watching his brother at a step’s remove, he clapped slowly and did not shout. Delilah was also clapping and shouting, leaning against Luke’s arm. Cynthia smoked a cigarette and looked at the faces around them.

Davis slid behind Luke and Delilah, lowering his head to speak at Cynthia’s level. She had on a black dress that appeared homemade. Its neckline closed in a prim V. Over the dress was an army supply jacket with pin buttons on the chest and colorful stencils along the frayed green sleeves.

“May I get one?”

“Didn’t take you for a smoker,” she said without hesitation, as if expecting Davis’s approach.

“I’m not,” he said.

She smiled. “First time for everything.”

Off to the side of the march a line of police officers waited on horses and several on foot bore assault rifles. Sunglasses hid their eyes. All of them except a few of the women wore their hair closely cropped. It was impossible to tell about the ones in riot gear. Cynthia gave Davis her matchbook. He struck the match on the wrong side and once it was lit could not coordinate the movement of the tiny thing to the aromatic tube between his lips.

“Shit, let me try that again.”

“Here, stud,” Cynthia put the end of her cigarette to his. “You have to inhale,” she said. He did and coughed. “Breathe in, let it out.” Her eyes were heavily hooded, a string of her otherwise ornately styled black hair falling across them. Her cheeks topped out in two half-moon bowls and at the edges of her eyes, visible only up close, were the beginning of crow’s feet. She seemed accustomed to being admired, inhaling without looking directly at him.

She is gorgeous, Davis thought in a rush.

Cynthia jutted out her lower lip and sent a stream of smoke climbing skyward. In some weird way, one Davis could not explain, she seemed to find her own beauty absurd. When she noticed Davis noticing, her mouth pinched shut and she appeared perfectly demure again. Davis looked away and, when he looked back, she rolled her eyes.

On their way to the parking garage, Luke stopped to speak with an indie movie star whom he’d met recently at a marine wildlife benefit in Orange County. The guy, in his early 20s, was completing an interview with a local news crew. The star told the crew, “You guys gotta get him! This is Luke Gambier, you’ll see him in the new Caleb Crawley flick.” They moved into position. Luke pushed the brim of his baseball cap a few inches up from his eyes and made a number of conspicuous nods to his left and right at the passing flocks of colorfully clad protesters, some stopping to wave and make faces at the camera from behind him. He spoke in a dignified, confiding tone and squinted at the black lens. “Whatever happens, I know I’m happy being out here with all these beautiful people. I love how many of us we have out here today. We’ll know, even if this goes exactly how it looks like it’s gonna go, the youth of today did more than sit on a couch.”

Davis brushed the light fuzz on Cynthia’s bare arm with his knuckles as he tossed his cigarette butt into the soil of a potted tree along the path of the march. She glanced his way, and he did a sheepish thing with his head, retracting into himself, like the contact had been on accident.

“One day,” Cynthia said, “I wanna have one of those throaty rich lifelong smoker’s voices. Only without smoking my whole life.”

Davis nodded. “There’s probably a machine. Something you can speak through.”

“Kind of, like, creepy movie kidnapper voicebox?”

“Like that, yeah. Except nicer.”

“That voice, I don’t know. It’s gotta be earned, I’m pretty sure.”

When the taping stopped, Luke shook everyone’s hand and signed a drugstore receipt in tiny script for the cameraman’s daughter.

Driving in the black A4 convertible, they spoke loudly over the wind about interesting-looking people they had seen at the protest and amusing or poignant signs. Cynthia cited hairstyles she found particularly striking, the guys who looked “raffish but serious like someone’s earnest stepbrother.” When they stopped, Luke contorted his way over the seat and Delilah leaned forward to kiss him. Davis caught Cynthia’s eye and she held his for a moment. Then he opened the door, jumped out, and pushed the seat forward so she could exit. Cynthia needed to buy materials for skirts, she said, a marbled print. The girls roved toward Delilah’s car, talking. Delilah looked back. Cynthia did not.

Davis repeated the phrase ‘marbled print’ in his head in the tossed-off way Cynthia had said it.

***

It was a cold Saturday in February, or cold at least for L.A. Davis expected Luke to drop him off near Hollywood Boulevard, his apartment a few blocks from the Chinese Theater, the costumed superheroes and movie icons along the Walk of Fame. Instead, Luke pulled up in front of a valet parking attendant. He told Davis he wanted to do some shopping.

“That war stuff’s so depressing! I don’t want to fume anymore, you know?” said Luke.

At the first boutique on Beverly, two attendants waited on them, a blond woman with lacquered hair and an effete man with radical bangs. Luke flirted with both as they brought successive outfits for the brothers to view. When Luke decided he liked one, he handed it over to Davis and asked him why not try it on?

“Just because you’re a teen pin-up doesn’t mean I’ll wear the same clothes as you, little brother,” said Davis, handing the outfit back.

Luke would not accept it, recoiling as if Davis were trying to strike him.

“C’mon and try ’em on. You can have this. I’m set for starters.”

Since middle school they had fostered this joke relating outfits to the pitching rotation of a baseball team. Davis guessed at the cost of the multi-hued stack in his hands.

“I’m not ready to martyr myself on the magic carpet of high fashion.”

“What about Cindy? You think she’s not into it?”

“Cynthia?”

“‘Cindy’ to her friends,” Luke said.

“What’s going on with her anyway?”

“She gets it, right?”

“Is she even available?” said Davis.

“Eats this stuff up. I saw you two in each other’s grills.”

Davis studied the clothes in his arms. “Your legs are longer than mine,” he said. “My neck’s wider than yours.”

The clerk, who had been listening with his tight black jeans in a flamenco-like pose, chimed in: “Guys, anything…?”

Davis did not speak as Luke paid for the clothes. The girl behind the register wrote her number on the receipt with three exclamation marks. Outside, Luke tossed it in a waste receptacle on the corner.

“Don’t feel bad,” said Luke. They strolled along the manicured boulevard, a statistically anomalous procession of luxury cars, including one yellow Lamborghini, scooting by. “Only money! There’s a certain standard we should set, you and me, bro-ee-yo.”

His gaze followed the Lamborghini down the block until it disappeared.

“I wonder if that was David Mitchner,” Luke said.

“Owe him a call?”

“Nah. There’s this part. Biopic of the young JFK.”

“Practicing those nasally vowels?”

“Ah, I, ah… I shay we shtahp aht one moe shtaw.”

Davis shook the boutique bag at Luke. “Not even halfway there. And hell, no!”

“Needs time. Read the script last night. C’mon, Davis.”

“Forget it!”

They went to two more. What Davis told himself to justify his brother’s expenditures was that if he moved from the production company where he currently worked for peanuts to a better paying gig as directorial assistant, there would be more parties to attend, more superficial strangers, and new clothes would count for something: flash and confusion. After he had cut the tags and thrown his four pairs of new starters onto hangers in the closet, Davis went to his desk, a cheap and easy-to-assemble number. The apartment itself was nondescript: the bedroom, the kitchen opening onto a living room, the bathroom, antiseptic, carpeted throughout, almost entirely white.

A mass e-mail from Davis’s buddy, Mike, the high school baseball squad’s starting catcher, stated why he had joined the Army Rangers and would ship out in “the event Saddam doesn’t get his act together. I think we know he won’t. That’s right. I said it – Fuck Saddam.” Davis read the long message, the crux of which went, “If someone has to go there, it might as well be someone I trust and there is no one I trust more than I trust myself.” Davis studied the picture of Mike in uniform, only a sliver of his face recognizable beneath the desert camo helmet and body armor, then responded to the e-mail with a short note, echoing their baseball patter about keeping alert and taking care. What if Mike didn’t come back? Mike, like Davis, from a secluded leafy house in the suburbs. Mike, unlike Davis, had a penchant for making scenes at high school parties, taking his shirt off and doing spontaneous pull-ups from the railing of a porch or push-ups on someone’s front lawn. On the way home, they would listen to hip-hop, some grunge rock, or Hendrix ratatating through the song ‘Machine Gun.’ Mike probably remembered those nights out too, circling the suburbs in Roshan’s Pathfinder.

Feet on the neatly arranged coffee-table that moved under him if he shifted too abruptly, Davis turned on the TV. As during his high-school years, it offered a temporary means of expanding the range of his consciousness and a chance not to be shut in with his thoughts: coverage of the local war protest and national glimpses of those elsewhere, presented in jump-cuts that reverted to images of the president behind a podium. Davis saw what people recognized in him, that hesitation mixed with desire to take a stand and be acknowledged for bravery like his father, along with the likelihood of his having watched a ton of movies as a kid. Consciously or unconsciously he channeled those movies when he spoke to a bank of cameras in a way not all that differently than did Luke. Only the effect here was enormous.

Didn’t Luke wish he could have that kind of impact? Or just the opposite.

This was the world now and how the world displayed itself to itself, which Davis understood were two concepts that did not necessarily equate. None of it did much for him or for the feeling that everything ended up as artifice, and he didn’t know how he felt about the war. His buddy would be in harm’s way. Someone had to go. Did someone have to go there? A trailer advertising Luke’s upcoming police thriller flared across the screen.

At his desk again, Davis found Cynthia Melero’s profile online. Her picture gave breathtaking intimacy. She was lying back on a pillow at an artful angle, turned to the viewer so as to make the most tenuous eye contact with her heavily hooded eyes. Whoever took the picture probably had been kneeling above her on the same mattress, close-up. She could have been waking from a nap or trying to go to sleep. Maybe all of it was posed. Davis sent a request to link their profiles and have access to what she had written for the boilerplate questions. He imagined writing to her. Her facial structure, the melancholy of her eyes, the incurve of her cheeks, the fine lines of her neck, the single freckle off her Adam’s apple made him think of formal courtship: couriers and ladies-in-waiting, sealed envelopes. On looking at her picture even more closely, he wondered if she was stoned.

He thought about the cigarette they had shared and began to write his mother one of his monthly e-mails.

Then Cynthia’s acceptance arrived. The answers on her profile were punchy, seemingly loaded with double meanings, alternately refined and frank: on favorite movies she had listed one called Blow and another called Go, separated by only a comma. It got a rise out of Davis, the thought that this declaration was snapping out there in the virtual breeze for anyone to see, the bad-ness from someone so patently nice. Maybe it was her, he thought, or maybe he was a total pervert.

That first note to her was short, wild, and improvised in a way he did not usually let his e-mails become unless they were sent to someone he knew well—like, say, Roshan or his drinking buddies from college. He called her ‘Cynthia,’ although he could see posted all over her page that everyone else called her ‘Cindy.’ He suggested meeting up. “I must be asking you out,” he wrote, “like people did in 1950. If you’re a fan of that kind of thing, let me know. If you’re not, whatever, I’ll keep working on my ‘creepy smoker’ voice. Hear it’s a great way to impress ladies.” Then he went for a light jog on the treadmill in the recesses of the apartment complex. He favored his good knee. There was one treadmill and one weight-lifting bench, two tacky wall-to-wall mirrors. It smelled like old socks and the air was heavy to breathe, but he was happy thinking how Cynthia might respond.

***

She didn’t for three days, and then, seemingly all at once, they were meeting outside a bar along Ocean Avenue, Davis in his stylish new clothes. Cynthia took him in with her eyes without comment. They dallied beneath the Ferris wheel on the pier and talked about how unfortunate it was that neither spoke Spanish, but Cynthia especially, since her grandfather, the first American Melero, hailed from Argentina. Her mother grew up in Little Rock but currently lived by herself with three cats on a beach in Oregon, divorced from Cynthia’s father, a one-time music exec now in real estate. Her mother was a dedicated but little-known sculptor.

“Sculptress?” grinned Davis.

“Sculptor,” said Cynthia, with a wry turn to her mouth.

There was incipience, a tantalizing humor to their every step. Cynthia moved with a flutter as if struggling not to go off in about eight different directions. This motion accentuated her thighs, but, knowingly, like the tropes of sexual attraction and almost everything about them were ridiculous. When they walked by, peoples’ heads turned. Eyes found Davis. They seemed to want to know the kind of guy Cynthia would choose to move in synch with.

Davis asked her to perform one gesture to typify her teenage years. To demonstrate his own, he swung an imagined baseball bat.

Cynthia paused to think, then pantomimed, with a hand next to each hip, shimmying in and out of a pair of jeans.

They did not laugh all that much as they strolled along but to Davis everything felt hilarious, bubbly, and Cynthia never stopped smiling. She made him want to do something idiotic like take his shirt off and perform push-ups on the boardwalk: that high-school penchant of Mike’s suddenly making a kind of sense. Cynthia’s pink homemade dress caught the light of the setting sun, infused with color that did not stop where the fabric ended at her nape, filling her complexion, all of her like a creature fire-red, recently born.

“You look.” Davis found himself overwhelmed by emotion. “So beautiful. Right now.”

Cynthia watched like someone concerned for another’s apparent distress. She did not acknowledge her appearance or whatever Davis was showing on his face. He leaned forward to kiss her. She did not kiss him back but did not move either.

A sustained peck, and Davis stepped away, feeling momentarily calm.

They went for dinner, Davis ravenous, and split an order of ceviche. Cynthia asked for a sandwich and ate half. Davis ordered a strip steak and talked about how since his break-up two years before and especially since moving to L.A. what he really wanted to be was “no one.”

“It’s like you meet people out here,” he said, “and everyone has a look and everyone has a pull. Then you get to know them, learn about them, what they want, what they’re running from and it’s like… I want to stay in the first part, the not knowing or having to say, you know, one way or the other, A or B. I look at my parents and what’s happened to them and how it was with my ex, like the whole time I was doing an imitation of my parents. That seems obvious. I’m 25. I was someone, I worked hard at being someone, and it ended. So for a while I just want to be no one.”

Davis thought he might be ranting. Cynthia said she knew exactly what he meant. Davis felt a chill. His eyes widened. He wanted to bury his face against her neck.

Being no one, said Davis, opened the horizons of experience, not letting some idea of yourself interfere with seeing another person for who she was, or putting some kind of filter on who was or was not acceptable for attention. And, yes, even if he did end things quickly, sometimes abruptly, wasn’t that the whole point since being someone with someone else was the biggest filter of all?

A crowded Irish bar now. A hockey game and two basketball games shone on the big screens. “I don’t pick favorites,” said Davis, leaning nearly halfway across the scratched and worn surface between them. “I’m not going to hold up someone’s headshot like the asshole I work for and tsk and rule her out in a blink.”

On the wall was a painting of an Irish writer with a gaunt face like worn leather. It was a good look. His face would appear distinctive on screen.

“You’re a sisterhood of one,” said Cynthia.

“Yeah,” said Davis, then paused to see if she was making fun of him. She might have been, yes.

“I treasure my friends most of all,” Cynthia said. “I wish I had a version of everyone I love in bas relief. But I think it’s admirable you’ve tried for a while to be equal opportunity. If maybe not sound practice. Still…” He waited for her to finish the thought. She didn’t.

When they were outside again she asked Davis about the flux of his social life. He said it was mostly work, going on the occasional date, and hanging with Luke, although he was intending to do less of that, to find his own space to grow.

“Is that hard for you?” Cynthia asked.

Davis drew to a halt. Lamplight showed the path forward. They were moving away from the oceanfront. Vehicles sped up the street and a guy on a scooter came downhill with a golden retriever on a leash wrapped around the palm of one of his fingerless gloves.

“You mean Luke’s having a career as a TV actor?” Davis asked.

“More than that, though.”

“That he’s getting some recognition?”

“And getting famous?”

“And maybe more?”

“Making some gravy too,” Cynthia said.

“Gravy. Yeah,” said Davis, looking at the pavement. “Greases the rails. Everyone says that. Like it’s nothing.”

Davis thought of his brother picking him up at the airport years ago and using a strange phrase about gravy. When he stopped focusing on Cynthia, she took a step towards him. He kissed her again. Once more her lips did not part but she returned the pressure. They held that pose for about twelve seconds. Davis had just started counting when she broke away.

“Salty,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Davis. He looked back the way they had come and ran a hand through his parted hair. “Now you’re going to tell me you’re seeing someone?”

She smiled and removed a cigarette from her purse. “I don’t have to.”

“Don’t then.”

He walked up the hill again, and turned around. “Who is he? What’s his name?” ‘Does he deserve you?’ the more formal question on the tip of his tongue.

“It’s weird,” she said, lighting up. She extended the pack to him even though a distance of fifteen feet separated them.

I shouldn’t,” said Davis. “Trying to quit, you know.” He squinted and stuffed his hands in his windbreaker. The moon in the sky gleamed like a dollop of butter.

“I’m a lonely lovelorn freak, don’t make any mistake,” said Cynthia, “but his name’s Miller.” There was something else she wasn’t saying, even if part of her wanted to, her head weaving back and forth.

“OK,” said Davis.

“He’s away until April.”

“Working on a film?”

“He directs.”

“You guys are…?”

“We talk on the phone. He sends me pictures. We’re in love, I think, I don’t know.”

Davis’s face distorted unbelievingly. “Those two things you said, they don’t mean the same thing. Is this Miller Satel? That’s how you know my brother?”

“Through Delilah—yes.”

“OK,” said Davis.

“Anyway,” said Cynthia, stepping absent-mindedly in his direction.

“Anyway.”

“My car’s over there,” she said.

“You’re getting in and driving away?” he asked.

“Unless lightning strikes.”

“Well…”

Standing about two feet from Davis, she took one more drag, then surprised him, darting close, the warmth of her breath and the odor of tobacco registering before he felt her tongue slip between his teeth. His hands were suspended in the air alongside Cynthia’s shoulders; if he grasped, he was sure she would back away, and when he did, she did.

“Grow your hair out,” she said, walking backwards. “The look would suit you, I think.”

He glanced at his stylish shirt and didn’t say anything until conscious she was waiting for a response: “I know I didn’t get the looks in the family.”

“I don’t know. We’re both halfway attractive people.”

Davis didn’t know either, only that he could not stop thinking about her afterwards, how gorgeous she was, or whether he should have let her walk away the way he did. He went back to his apartment and gazed at the picture of Cynthia online, then turned the laptop off and masturbated into a sock from memory. He thought of her alone in her apartment, maybe, like him, with her eyelids down. In the morning he saw she had posted an appreciative testimonial on his profile. It was two lines long and a misspelling bestowed it with authenticity of feeling. Miller Satel, meanwhile, had posted a testimonial on Cynthia’s page, praising her ‘sangfroid.’ The way he used the word sounded dirty. Davis searched Satel’s professional career. He was thirty-five years old, his second movie currently filming in Prague. The first concerned Indiana during the ’50s, McCarthyism as backdrop, and, in the foreground, a love triangle between a cop, a young widow, and the disaffected son of the small town’s wealthiest citizen. The son’s name—the fact made Davis want to yell at the screen, its pretension—was Amory. Nobody really was named Amory.

The next Thursday Luke’s movie released to positive press, and for his role especially: the young cop whom the veteran detective suspects of being the mole in the department—until the kid proves himself, and in proving himself, dies. Davis skipped the premiere to read a book he had ordered online about the history of Argentina. He and Luke met for brunch on Sunday, Luke with a girl who was not Delilah and bearing the hush-hush news that he’d been offered the part of a young JFK. Davis was composing an e-mail in his mind over the course of the entire hour, one to Cynthia to tell her again how incredible she had looked at sunset in Santa Monica. After he got home and typed out a version he didn’t feel completely embarrassed by, she responded, “Thanks, almost sounds like you don’t need me over there at all.”

She was teasing, Davis didn’t know how cruelly. He didn’t know if he would get to see her again. On Tuesday he ferried a script from the production company on Wilshire to a star’s house in a gated neighborhood in the Hills. When he returned to the office and parked his used Jetta in the garage, the bumper caught on the front of a parking divider. It tore from the body as he backed up again. He got out, surveyed the damage, and wondered at what point it became inevitable: when he backed up or when he first advanced over the divider? Or when he bought the car? An e-mail from Cynthia announced he could come over that night to watch TV.

Davis dressed in jeans and an old t-shirt. Cynthia opened the door to her bungalow wearing a blue dress that showed a lot of her shoulders. Considering how much sunshine everyone got, her skin looked distinctly pale. She did not hug him but said she had a bottle of Pinot Noir open and asked if he wanted some? He sipped from his glass next to her on the couch with his legs spread apart. Her own were demurely crossed. She had a bruise on her knee. Framed black and white photographs lined the walls. Cynthia might have taken them herself or maybe they were the work of a well-known somebody. It was one long room, the bungalow, her bed a mattress on the floor in the back behind a clothing rack on wheels. Davis glanced over his shoulder and again to the TV like he wasn’t supposed to have seen where she slept. On the TV in front of them, a salvaged, boxy one with wood paneling, a comedian on a satirical newscast joked about the commencement of the war.

Cynthia lit a joint and offered it to Davis. He inhaled several times, even though he had never smoked before. He felt not that differently, possibly fuzzier at the edges, but his heart raced at the proximity to Cynthia. She smirked in his direction, eyes glazed. Davis thought about telling her he loved her, but because they were just sitting there it was absurd and, anyway, so was love.

He glanced at Cynthia, who now seemed to be trying not to smile, and noticed her tug the hem of her dress an inch up her thigh. Davis turned his head, not wanting to appear as some kind of pervert. Then he felt her reposition herself, her weight momentarily lifted from beside him, the vinyl couch crinkling, and he looked again. She had pulled the hem all the way off her thighs and folded the bottom of her dress over herself, settling back against the sofa so that her prim pubic tuft showed between her crossed legs. Her attention was directed at the TV. He opened his mouth, stunned. She opened her own mouth, mirroring his expression with a darted glance before returning her focus to the TV. He advanced through five haphazard positions like shoddy stop-motion animation, falling to his knees on the bamboo floorboards. There was laughter from the studio audience.

She opened her legs, her scent and warmth unimpeachable, and he began slowly to kiss the insides of her thighs. She let out a grunt and messed up his hair with the hand not holding the TV remote. Her vulva beckoned demurely, her face out of focus above him, distantly approving. She kicked one leg to the left, where he had been sitting, and propped the other over his shoulder, moaned, then flipped the channel. Davis had closed his eyes but could hear the president speaking behind him: “Our good faith has not been returned,” he said. “The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East-”

“Oh, gross!” said Cynthia, pressing the remote several times. He pushed his hands up under her dress above her hips. There was a sitcom on, and Davis listened as the matron of a Southern family cracked wise in the kitchen of her home. Her husband walked in. She said something wry and sarcastic. Someone was pouring cereal. He said something in a deep, bottom-of-the-belly voice. Laughter. The daughter entered. She said something in a world-weary, nasally tone. Laughter. The husband said something. Laughter. The matron said something. Laughter. Laughter. Laughter.

When it was over, Cynthia pet Davis’s scalp and said, “I love that show so much.”

Excerpted from the manuscript "The Unfamous."