To Have and Have Not
“Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house you can never tell.” — Joan Crawford
Roy never made it to Carolyn’s. After leaving Danny to board up number eleven, he headed to his own bungalow. The storm had been downgraded, but the rain had begun in earnest. Roy closed his hurricane shutters just in case. Inside, he checked his unread emails; the backlog was significant. Maintaining daily contact with the outside world had been an early casualty of Roy’s life in Buxton. Most of the emails were unsolicited marketing pitches. One, however, was from Wyeth Books.
Dear Mr. Bloom:
Thank you for your recent submission.
Your work is unusual, refreshing, and, for the most part, amusing. However, while quite clever, your stories fall significantly outside the parameters of the material our firm publishes. That is neither a judgment on your writing nor an assessment of your talent. The stories are simply too offbeat and too irreverent.
You need to consider that your subject matter—and especially your story titles—may not play well in today’s politically correct environment. While I understand that satire is the essence of your style, others might not see it that way.
Again, I enjoyed your stories. Just be prepared to offend some people.
Your original materials will be returned by post.
T. J. Wyeth — Publisher, Wyeth Books
Roy was disappointed, but not surprised. He’d known from the beginning he was taking a chance. Satire doesn’t work for everyone, and was clearly not what T. J. Wyeth needed. Roy also had had second thoughts about the humor. Would it ring true? It had for Wyeth. But making him laugh hadn’t gotten Roy a publishing contract.
Roy’s stories were irreverent, but they were intended to be. Still, Wyeth’s comments deserved reflection. Now Roy feared his work was little more than the idle musings of an amateur. After filling his glass with ice from the automatic dispenser on the front of his new refrigerator, Roy poured himself a generous measure of scotch.
Maybe Wyeth was right. Despite a strong affinity for the unconventional, Roy might have been better off beginning with less offbeat material. Leave the more unorthodox storylines for later—after he’d made a name for himself, if, in fact, he ever did. Nonetheless, Wyeth had given him hope. Not so much that he felt he was on the right track, but enough to make him feel that he had a chance of finding it.
Eager to rework his stories, Roy sat down to write. Knowing he might be at it for some time, he texted Carolyn. His meeting with Claire had lasted longer than expected and now he needed to work. He would see her in the morning. He then called Alan. His old college friend had read the stories prior to Roy sending them to Wyeth. Alan loved them, but he had a macabre sense of humor so maybe he wasn’t the best judge. No matter, Alan wasn’t home. Roy left a message.
Despite laboring through the night, Roy had little to show for it—except a nearly empty bottle of scotch. He again texted Carolyn telling her she needn’t stop by until mid-afternoon the earliest. Compatible as lovers, Carolyn and Roy had chosen not to live together. There was no need. Their bungalows were practically next to each other. Besides, they preferred their relationship remain as uncommitted as possible. At forty-seven, Carolyn had already spent the majority of her years alone. She valued her independence and felt safer without entanglements. And change was not her strong suit. As for Roy, he maintained a distance from people in general—especially anyone who might access his vulnerabilities.
Not surprisingly, though, Roy harbored concerns about Carolyn. And it wasn’t just that she was Ken’s half-sister. Carolyn was a troubled, unpredictable woman, not unlike Alison. Her mood swings were prodigious: upbeat, sarcastic, and fun one minute, detached, retiring, and scared the next. Roy never knew which Carolyn to expect. He also tended to believe Alan’s speculation (by way of Ken) that something traumatic had happened in her youth. Women like Carolyn and Alison intrigued Roy. Not so much in spite of their issues, but almost because of them.
Roy was grateful, though. Carolyn had removed Alison almost entirely from his psyche. For his part, he tried to be an attentive lover, a supportive friend, and an enjoyable companion. Roy believed their relationship was good for Carolyn, but he also knew he could be difficult. Occasionally unreliable and moody, Roy was prone to excessive bouts of negativity although he tried his best to keep his apocalyptic vision of the future to himself. Still, despite their issues, they willingly acknowledged to each other the importance of their relationship.
In the five years Carolyn had lived at The Bungalows, she’d built a life that worked for her. She’d kept it low-key, making a little money waitressing, engaging with only a few friends, and spending the bulk of her time painting. Roy admired her art and thought she could probably sell her work. But Carolyn had no interest in trying. For the first time in her life, she had found a little peace and had no desire to add an element that might be unsettling. Roy had been the lone exception and he knew she wondered if that had been a mistake. In the short time he’d known her, Carolyn had never expressed any interest in a life beyond her narrowly defined comfort zone.
Lying on his new couch, Roy was nursing a hangover when Carolyn walked in mid-afternoon. She sat down across from him in the Eames chair. Annoyed about having been stood up the night before, she wasted little time needling him about his drinking.
“I thought you were supposed to be cutting back.”
“It doesn’t show.”
“Looks can be deceiving.”
“Not in your case, Roy.”
“I worked all night. I needed something to keep me going.”
“Ever think about coffee?”
“I thought about it, scotch won out.”
“Not inclined to be serious, huh?”
“Not really. Not today.”
“Or any day for that matter.”
“Pissed that I’m hung over?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because it’s pretty obvious.”
Carolyn was irritated and didn’t bother to hide it. Originally wary of mentioning Roy’s meeting with his rental manager, she no longer seemed concerned.
“That was a long walk yesterday with Claire,” Carolyn said, pointedly.
“There was a lot to discuss. Some year-round tenant possibilities. Afterwards, I stopped to help Danny.”
“Then you got hung up writing and left me high and dry.”
“If you like,” Roy said dismissively, adding “I got an email from T. J. Wyeth about my stories.”
“And?” Carolyn asked, genuinely interested.
“The good news is that Wyeth liked what I sent. The bad news is that it’s significantly outside the parameters of what his company publishes.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means he’s not about to launch my career.”
“Well, that’s too bad. Try not to take it to heart like you usually do.”
“Too late,” Roy said, as he got up, walked across the room, picked up the bottle of scotch, and held it out to Carolyn. She shook her head. He poured himself a glass.
“All that time to discuss rental possibilities? Must have been something else on the agenda,” Carolyn asked, ignoring Roy’s earlier comment about helping Danny.
“No, that was pretty much it. And do me a favor. Don’t get on me about Claire today. I’m not in the mood. Claire’s a business associate and a friend and that’s it. She did actually feign surprise that you and I have more than a landlord/tenant relationship.”
“A little late to the party, don’t you think? How naïve is she? And why’d that come up anyway?”
“I don’t know. She brought it up.”
“Not sure exactly. I think she’d like to have an affair.”
“No, with you. Of course, with me.”
“How romantic. Did she say as much?”
“She didn’t have to. And you might want to check, I think your insecurity is showing.”
“I hate when you say things like that, Roy, and you know it. Please don’t.”
“I like Claire, Carolyn. She’s a big help. I’m not looking for any other kind of relationship with her other than the one we already have. And you know that.”
“I said not today, Carolyn. Okay? Even though Wyeth’s letter was essentially a rejection notice, it actually gave me some hope. So keep your misplaced concern about Claire to yourself. Everything’s going well in my life for a change—including my relationship with you. I’d like to keep it that way.”
Roy got up from the couch and walked across the room.
“Yes, I’m fixing myself another scotch, still don’t want one?”
“Already? You just had one.”
“I know. But it was a short one. I need to kill this hangover,” Roy said, as he disappeared into the kitchen for some ice.
Roy knew Carolyn was jealous of Claire, but she had no reason to be. That she trusted Roy at all was a surprise to both of them, given the number of times people in her life had let her down. But Roy needed Carolyn to keep her jealousy in check. Despite its short duration, their relationship had become a priority for both of them.
When Roy returned, he joined Carolyn on the couch. She’d moved from the Eames chair to her usual spot.
“What else did Wyeth say?”
“I think he enjoyed the writing. The stories were a bit over the top for him. He thinks I might have talent, but wasn’t interested in what I sent.”
“You’re getting closer, Roy. Maybe next time.”
“Maybe,” Roy said, without much enthusiasm.
“That’s all you can say?”
“Yeah. You got me thinking about Claire. I feel bad for her.”
“Why? Because she fucked up her life?”
“Little harsh, don’t you think? You’re not exactly the poster girl for success.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Roy wanted them back.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Carolyn asked indignantly.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it, but you have to admit you had a bad run of luck early on.”
“Certainly a quaint way of putting it, Roy. You know you’d do a lot better if you censored yourself more often. Something you seem unable to do when you’ve been drinking,” Carolyn said sharply. “I did have some very difficult years. You have some perverse need to remind me?”
“No. I said I was sorry. I just thought you were being unnecessarily unkind.”
“Well, for a change, you happen to be right. What I said about Claire was unkind.” Carolyn placed her hands behind Roy’s neck, intertwined her fingers, and pulled his face close to hers. “I like what we have, Roy. I don’t want to see it threatened.”
“Have I given you any reason to feel insecure?”
“Okay then. Let it go.”
Looking to change the nature of the conversation, Carolyn turned in the wrong direction.
“Why didn’t you ever get married, Roy? Didn’t you want kids?”
“Not particularly,” Roy said, sounding irritated. “How many times are you going to ask me that?”
“Probably until you give me an answer I can believe.”
“Okay. I thought I was doing my parents a favor. Harry and Ethel would have made lousy grandparents.”
“Why do you find it so difficult to be serious?”
“Not entirely sure, to be honest.”
“I don’t understand you, Roy. You would have made a good father.”
“How would you know?”
“I see how patient you are with Danny. You teach him things. You talk to him about stuff that has nothing to do with his job. You give him guidance. He looks up to you.”
“The kid asks me questions. What am I supposed to do, not answer?”
“Of course not, but you know you’re a first-class avoider when it comes to questions you don’t feel like answering.”
“Apparently, you seem to think so,” Roy said, deciding it was time for a break.
“I need to check on some of the other bungalows. Even if it wasn’t much of a storm, I’m not at all sure Danny prepped the units as thoroughly as he usually does.”
Roy got up and headed to the door.
“I’ll be back for happy hour.”
“Funny, it feels like you already had happy hour.”
“Happier hour, then.”
A few minutes after Roy left, Carolyn went back to her own bungalow. She needed to call Ken. Their conversations as of late had been more fraught since she felt the need to keep her relationship with Roy private. She and Ken were close, but unlike Roy she hated not being truthful. Carolyn often considered confiding in Ken, but every time an opportunity arose she lost her nerve.
Roy hadn’t really needed to check the other bungalows; he’d used it as an excuse to have a cigarette. Although he only smoked occasionally, Carolyn disapproved. After a perfunctory check of some of the other units, Roy returned to his own. Not finding Carolyn, he walked across to her bungalow just as she was hanging up the phone.
“You didn’t tell me you were going back to your place.”
“Sorry, I assumed you figured I’d go home.”
“Who was on the phone?”
“Christ, you talk to that guy a lot.”
“Roy, he’s my brother. He pays my rent. Besides, I don’t consider every three weeks or so a lot.”
Carolyn’s conversations with Ken made Roy uneasy. He didn’t begrudge her the relationship, but it was one reason he found it difficult to be entirely open with her. Were Ken to learn of their affair, it could be problematic for both Roy and Carolyn. But what if she did tell Ken? Would he stop paying her rent? Call the loan on The Bungalows, effectively firing Roy? Neither he nor Carolyn thought Ken would do much of anything except get angry. But who could be sure? Roy had high hopes for the next couple of years and he wanted Carolyn with him. She kept him grounded and focused. And he loved her, even if he had trouble admitting it to himself, let alone to her. Besides, Carolyn had never been particularly vocal about how she felt.
When Roy’s cell phone rang, he walked outside to take it.
“Alan. Thanks for calling back.”
“No problem. What’s up?”
“I wanted to get your opinion again on those stories I sent to T. J. Wyeth, but now’s not a good time.”
“Oh, yeah. Why not?”
“If I told you, you wouldn’t like it.”
“You know, Roy, if you’re still hanging out with Carolyn you’re just asking for trouble.”
“One man’s opinion, Alan.”
“Okay, have it your way. I’m not in the mood to argue. But speaking of trouble, I had dinner the other night with Tommy Thompson and his wife, your old girlfriend.”
“Tommy and Gretchen? Just the three of you?”
“Of course not. Ken had a dinner party. I was one of the lucky invitees.”
“What did Tommy have to say for himself?”
“Not much, but they both asked to be remembered to you.”
“Not funny, Alan.”
“Okay, they didn’t ask about you. They couldn’t have been less interested in Buxton or The Bungalows. Your name never came up. Try not to take it personally.”
Roy didn’t. He was grateful there’d been no talk about The Bungalows. If word of his “ownership” hadn’t leaked by now, it wasn’t going to.
“And just a heads-up, Roy. After the Thompsons left, Ken mentioned your idea of renting the bungalows year-round. He doesn’t want you fooling with what’s working, but I don’t think he’d try especially hard to stop you.”
“That’s good because I don’t intend to stop. And by the way, when exactly were you planning to tell me I wasn’t your first choice for the Buxton assignment? I thought we were friends.”
“We are, Roy, but I consult for Ken. He pays me extremely well to be completely honest. He helps supports a lifestyle I never thought possible. When was the last time you even bought me a present?”
Roy wasn’t amused by Alan’s attempt at humor.
“Be pissed if you like, but I was only doing my job.”
“Right. Fine. I get it.”
Roy saw no point in pursuing the matter. He just wanted to be sure Alan knew he knew. He doubted Ken had shared the fact he’d told Roy about the other “Roys”.
“Just so you know, renting year-round brings in a hell of lot more money. Money I might add that supports a lifestyle Inever thought possible. Besides, I already have two renters lined up, and guess what, you even know one of them.”
“Yeah, who’s that?”
“Christ, Roy. Fred Mueller? Are you kidding me?”
“Why, what’s the problem?”
“Fred’s trouble Roy. He was during college and he’s even more so now. Don’t fool around with the guy.”
“Why, because he’s a right wing conspiracy nut? He’s a journalist, Alan. He has money. He’s harmless.”
“I’d keep my distance, Roy.”
“Well, that’s going to be a little hard. I already rented him the bungalow next to mine.”
“Give him his money back, Roy. You don’t need renters that badly.”
“Why are you’re making such a big fucking deal out of this.”
“Because it’s going to be a big fucking headache for you.”
“Damn, I had no idea you were such an alarmist.”
“Only when I see fire on the horizon Roy. You want that kind of renter; be my guest. It’s your funeral.”
“A bit dramatic, don’t you think Alan? Fred’s money is green. It’s bankable. Besides, he’s moving in next week.”
…to be continued…