Lingering on the porch, Nat and Cammy propped themselves up in the sun against the house. Nat said, “I’ve only been to Long Island a few times; this is dynamite, being here.”
“I’m afraid I’m rather insular. Except for the city, I’ve almost never been anywhere else,” Cammy said.
“No reason to go anywhere else, from the look of it.”
“So, is it sort of exciting, teaching English to freshmen?”
“Very. Some of them are really into it. I started with Thoreau. I couldn’t seem to bring myself to tell them that he went home to his mother’s for dinner so often. The girls especially had made him an icon.”
“Some of them probably knew.”
“I suppose. . . . Your parents live in the city?”
“Yup. Dad is in stocks, and my mom is a buyer for a dress shop.”
“I admire you, working for legal aid,” he said. “I didn’t follow the family agenda, either. I come from a little mom-and-pop stationery store in the wrong part of Brooklyn. My dad built it out of a newspaper stand. Sort of.”
“There’s an accomplishment. I’m impressed that you’re teaching at the university level so early in the game. You must’ve been a star in college.”
“Well, you know, they give scholarships sometimes if you seem really down and out. I wore tattered clothes to the interview. . . .”
“I’ve noticed that you do still seem deprived.” Nat sported a Brooks Brothers shirt, well-cut jeans.
When Ryan and Kim reappeared later, laughing, Cammy saw that Nat was a little disappointed. She was, too. But she was drawn enough to Nat to be turning a little shy.
Cocktails at Bree and Max’s well-appointed cottage constituted a luxurious hour and a half. Max more than generously governed a full bar, and Bree passed about hot hors d’oeuvres, a tempting slab of room temperature Stilton.
Nat proclaimed, when the Stilton made the rounds, “The French make the best cheeses, and the English make the best cheese.”
Max said, “Bravo!”
Ryan and Max, who’d met before, chatted together a fair amount, the only near conservatives in the room. The others talked about who and what the summer might bring, and ventured occasional liberal remarks, teasing the two in vain.
As the four were leaving, they smelled something faintly burning. When Bree closed the door after them, Max’s voice could be heard, yelling, “Christ, Bree, how can you fucking burn a fucking roast?”
“Wow. He had a few,” Ryan said, as they made their way toward their own cabana.
“I wouldn’t want to be Bree,” Kim put in.
The artichokes were fine, with melted butter. Ryan insisted on wielding the long-handled grill with the steaks over the fire, and offered quite rare steaks to all. Cammy discreetly did hers and Kim’s a little more, while Nat accepted what Ryan gave him.
They were puttering about, over cream and sugar for their coffee, which was burbling, when they heard a stomping on the porch. Ryan slipped over to let Bree in. She was favoring her right arm, under a coat draped over her shoulder. She carried an overnight bag.
“Jesus, I think he’s coming behind me,” she said, making sure Ryan closed the door.
Cammy said, gently, “What happened, Bree?”
“He started slapping me around after dinner, about the damn roast. Only part of which was burned, thank you very much. And he knocked me down against the cocktail table. I cut this arm on the goddamn edge.” She shed her coat, rolled up a sleeve on which blood had spattered. They could see a medium-size gash near her elbow.
Kim immediately brought a clean cloth, and Cammy went for hydrogen peroxide, a bandage. Nat got Bree to lie down on the couch, under which she kicked her bag, and Ryan covered her with a blanket.
While Cammy was still working on the bandage, the door spun open, to crash loudly against the wall. “Where the fuck is she?” Max bellowed.
Ryan tried to bar him from coming in. “Not so fast, buddy,” he said. “Let her be now.”
“What the hell do you mean, ‘let her be?’ She’s my wife. What’s she doing here, anyway?”
“Resting a little,” Nat said. “She’s okay.”
“Bree!? You’re coming home with me. Now.” Max angled, stumbling, around Ryan, glaring at the couch.
“No, she isn’t,” Ryan said, fiercely. “Cut it out, Max. She’s not ready to go.”
“ ‘Ready’? Out of my way, asshole. This isn’t any of your fucking business.”
Ryan jabbed at Max, pushing him back toward the door.
Max spat out, “Christ’s sake, you shit,” and swung, hitting Ryan’s face hard. Cammy could see there was no blood.
Ryan then danced close and socked Max in the jaw.
“Wait a sec, guys,” Nat said, holding Ryan back now. “Let’s ask Bree what she wants.”
Cammy, sitting on the couch beside Bree, nodded at Nat’s suggestion. In appreciation, she touched Nat’s shoulder as he came back to the arm of the couch. Kim slipped in nearer to Ryan to back him up in blocking Max from the couch.
Bree looked straight over at Max. “Max, I’ll come home soon. I hurt my arm when I fell, and these guys are giving us an intermission.” She raised her bandaged arm.
Max, stroking his jaw, studied her as though she were entirely new to him. He growled, “Judas Priest, Bree. Knock it off. I’m taking you home.”
“I’ll come. I just want a little respite. I said I’d come soon Max.”
Max moved toward the couch, almost fell. “Shit. You’d better.” He began to grope his way out. “Christ, a little tiny cut, and she has to rest.” Ryan opened the door. Nat came around to walk Max home.
The others settled around Bree, getting her coffee, urging her to lie back against the pillows. When Nat got back, he said, “He’s out. He’s on his own couch. I put a blanket around him.”
“Too good for the bastard,” Ryan growled.
Cammy said, “Bravo, Nat. . . .” Then, “What do you really want to do, Bree?”
“I had to lie to Max. I don’t want to go back. This isn’t the first time he’s hit me. He has a couple of drinks and thinks he’s in some world heavyweight championship. I want to go stay with my sister in Mattituck for a while. While I think out what to do. I can’t keep this up, getting hurt every few weeks. He hasn’t beaten me to a pulp yet. But that’s what’s lying in wait, in the wings.”
Kim asked, “How come he gets so angry?”
“You know, I can’t figure it out. His parents preferred his brother, I think, the brother was asked into the family business, not Max. And the father has a temper, too. Just like this. Max would never go for any therapy, of course.”
“Very macho,” Nat said. “Strike out, and learn later.”
“If ever,” Cammy added.
Kim asked, “Who was it said ‘Marriage is duty disguised as pleasure?’ ”
Bree gave a resounding, “Brava!”
Cammy said, “How about this, Bree. You spend the night here. And I’ll drive you to Mattituck early in the morning? I can be back long before lunch, guys.”
“Wow. Thank you,” Bree sighed, closing her eyes, headed for sleep.
They chatted, low, for a bit, forgetting coffee, the dishes, careful of Bree. As the men said goodnight, Cammy and Nat’s look met, and held.
When they’d left Bree warm on the couch by the last of the fire and tucked themselves in, Kim said, “I’ll go with you tomorrow, Cammy. Poor Bree.”
“Only if you want. Poor Max, too, in the long run. . . . Kimmy, are you starting to like Ryan, by any chance?”
“He’s yours, Cam.”
“No, he’s not. . . . I’m kind of so-so about him right now, actually.”
“Really? Well. I do think he’s attractive. There was some talk of golf tomorrow morning.”
“Ah, so?” Cammy thrust a pillow gently into Kim’s face. Then she said, seriously, “I hereby stand aside if you two want to go for it, love. I mean it.”
“Well.” Kim grinned her thanks. She turned off her bedside lamp.
Cammy smiled now in the dark. She gave herself full permission to ask Nat if he’d like to come to Mattituck with her the next day.
Kay Kidde founded the Kidde, Hoyt & Picard Literary Agency. A former teacher, her fiction has appeared previously in The Star.