They cleaned up in the kitchen, then Holly cuddled on the sofa with Marv the Moose, her favorite stuffed toy, and Jenny led Jim upstairs to their master bath. They showered together, making love against the cool tiled wall. Afterward, they soaped each other down. Jim watched the soap swirl from their bodies and spiral down the drain, and he could not avoid seeing patterns and textures in the spinning bubbles. His artist’s eye rarely rested.

“Wow,” Jenny said. “You were horny.”

“Can you blame me?” he asked, rubbing soap across her breasts. Before he met Jenny he’d been an ass man, but the first time she took her bra off for him, he was converted.

“What, these old things?” she said, looking down.

“Jonathan’s going to be here soon,” Jim said.

“I feel so sorry for him, but I’m starting to think some people just aren’t meant to spend their life with one person.”

“I thought he and Philip had it made. Such a sweet guy.”

Jenny shampooed her hair and Jim massaged it in, working with his fingertips. She sighed in contentment, then opened one eye. “Did you know Philip has a huge dick?”

“Eh? No. How would I? Who told you?”

“Jonathan, of course! Not something he’d tell you, I guess.”

“Guess not.” Jim laughed as he adjusted the shower-head, then started rinsing Jenny’s hair, watching the bubbled shampoo spill across her neck and shoulders. In his art, he liked to catch movement—the flow of water, the drift of clouds, the smear of light on a darkened landscape—and his observation of movement was often different from most people’s.

“Nine inches.”

“Okay, I don’t think I need any more information,” he said, and he moved his hands down from her hair to her breasts.

“Wow,” Jenny said, eyes closed again.

“Good?” he asked, because it certainly felt good to him.

“… nine inches …,” she purred.

“It’s not the tools, but the craftsman,” Jim said, drawing her close.

Jenny ran her hand across his stomach and found him again, eyes opening in surprise. “Oh!”

“Yeah.” Jim leaned in and kissed her, and they embraced, relishing each other’s familiar nakedness. Their lovemaking was always passionate, familiarity only adding to the excitement they still felt for each other. “I figure we’ve got ten minutes.”

Jenny turned around. “Better get busy, then,” she said.

“Hi, sweetie!” Jonathan said as Holly opened the front door for him. He bent down to give her a hug and handed her a candy bar, making a great play of saying it was their secret. Holly looked back at Jim and Jenny, giggling and slipping the bar into her pajama pocket.

“What?” Jim said. “I saw nothing.” Holly ran into their living room, and cartoon voices shared her secret.

“Hi, guys,” Jonathan said, smiling. “I brought Dunkin’ Donuts to go with our coffee.” He brandished a large, flat box.

“Then, young Jonathan, you may enter,” Jim said, sweeping his arm toward the kitchen. Jonathan was ten years his senior but had always looked younger than Jim.

Jenny and Jonathan sat at the breakfast bar while Jim ground coffee beans and loaded the machine, making small talk. Jim could hear the hurt in his friend’s voice, a shadow of sadness that made him sound more tired than usual. But for now none of them mentioned what had happened so recently—Philip’s final departure, after so many stormy months. Maybe now you can move on, Jim thought, but he knew how insensitive that would sound if he actually said it aloud. Jonathan was heartbroken, and moving on was the last thing someone with a broken heart wished for. All he wanted to do was move backward to when it had all been good.

“I wanted to take you and Holly out today,” Jonathan said to Jenny. “Lunch in town, then maybe we can look around for something I can buy Holly for Christmas.”

“That’s two months away!” Jim said.

“I like to be organized,” Jonathan said. “How do you think you get all those fine deals I make for you?”

“Sounds good to me,” Jenny said. “We don’t really have any plans for today, do we, Jim?”

Jim shrugged. No plans, though he had been thinking about just hanging around the house as a family, watching a movie, maybe getting takeout later. Jonathan smiled at him, and the sadness had infected his eyes as well. Jim realized that he just wanted to be out doing something, in company he felt comfortable with, and he really couldn’t blame his friend for that. If he ever lost Jenny …

“Jim’s been up all night painting, anyway,” Jenny said.

“Really?” Jonathan said. “Not working on the pub thing, though …”

“One of my cityscapes,” Jim said. The rich aroma from the coffee machine was filling the kitchen now, and combined with the smell of donuts, it was almost heavenly.

“Is it …?” Jonathan began. He’d never liked those paintings. He said they weren’t salable, and it was one of the few times he and Jim had disagreed about his work. It’s not all about the money, Jim had said, and Jonathan had thrown a fit, offended that Jim even had to say that. I’ve always supported your art, he’d said, and that was the truth.

“It’s different,” Jenny said.

“Still needs work. Needs finishing. I’ll do it today while you’re out.”

Jonathan nodded, then flipped open the box’s lid. “Anyone mind if I have first dibs?”

“Help yourself,” Jim said, pouring the coffee. So, that was today laid out before them. Usually the idea of spending a few hours on his own, working in the studio with music blasting and lunch on the balcony luring him on, would have filled him with delight, but now he felt painted out. Four intense hours had done that to him, and the revelation of his faded dream on canvas had left him with a familiar sense of dislocation. Maybe all dreams born were meant to die, but he’d had the same feeling after painting each of those unknown cityscapes—the one today, with low roofs, and the other unknown Boston, with high buildings and a never-seen silhouette. If he was left alone at home, he’d more than likely end up puttering in his studio for an hour or two, then coming down to the living room and falling asleep in front of the TV.

“So, how are you?” Jenny asked.

“I’m okay,” Jonathan replied.

Jim placed their coffees in front of them and took a seat. Jonathan was smiling sadly and looking down at the table. He picked up a crushed blueberry that they’d missed and examined it on the end of his finger, then raised an eyebrow and tasted it. “You had pancakes and didn’t leave any for me?”

Jim looked at the box of a dozen donuts and burst out laughing.

“Hey, comfort food!” Jonathan said. “I’ve just suffered a very traumatic separation, and considering I haven’t had a drink or a smoke in years, what do I have left?”

“Hard drugs,” Jim said, still chuckling.

“They don’t agree with me,” Jonathan said, arching an eyebrow.

“So, donuts it is.”

Jonathan bit into his donut, sugar speckling the stubble across his top lip.

Jim could see already that Jonathan’s spirits had lifted in the few minutes he’d been here. Jenny had always had that effect on him. She was one of life’s calm ones, and she seemed to be able to pass her gift on to anyone who needed it, whatever the circumstances. They chatted some more, shooting the breeze, and Jim refilled their coffee mugs. Jonathan laughed a lot, and mostly Jim could tell that it was genuine, though sometimes it was not. It would take him a long time to get over Philip, tempestuous though their relationship had been. Once when Jim had asked about it, his friend had replied, I just love loving someone who’s so fucking alive!

Jenny finished a donut and went to take Holly upstairs to wash and dress. The two men waited in companionable silence for a couple of minutes—the sort of unpressured quiet that only good friends or lovers could ever maintain. Jonathan rested his elbows on the counter and kept his mug pressed to his lips, looking into the middle distance.

“Dude, nine inches?” Jim said. “Dude” was a word he only ever used when the subject was a little uncomfortable; it softened the blow.

Jonathan looked at him, mug still in front of his mouth. He raised an eyebrow. “Better believe it, dude.”

The two men laughed again, and when Jonathan left with Jenny and Holly, everyone seemed happy, looking forward to the day. Even Jim. He’d resolved to stay out of his studio, spending the time instead catching up on some reading, and if he drifted off to sleep, well … he’d welcome it.

He kissed his wife good-bye at the door while Jonathan strapped Holly into his BMW.

“Have fun,” Jim said as they hugged.

“Will do,” she said. They both squeezed a little bit harder.

“Love you.”

“Love you more,” Jim said. He watched her walking down their front path to the car, then closed the door, breathing in the silence.

When he awoke, the house felt empty. Not just silent or still, but empty. He sat up quickly, gasping as if startled awake by the phone or doorbell. But there were no echoes, and his phone was on the carpet beside the sofa. Christ, me and these fucking dreams!

Jim rubbed his eyes and looked around. The large living room seemed different, and he couldn’t quite place why. Something appeared to be missing, but recognizing things that had gone was not as easy as seeing things that shouldn’t be there. He frowned and shook his head, resting it in his hands for a few moments while he gathered his thoughts. He glanced at his watch—almost five p.m. Jenny and Holly had left with Jonathan over six hours ago; he’d had no idea that they would be gone so long.

Picking up the phone, he expected to see a text, but there was none. That was weird. Jenny usually kept in touch when she was out, especially when she was going to be home later than expected. They’d never lived in each other’s pockets. They both had space to spread out—he with his art, she with her teaching and wide circle of friends—but they both understood the limits of their relationship. If Jim expected her and Holly home at a certain time and they were going to be late …

He opened a new text and keyed in, Hi sexy, got an ETA? Then he scrolled down his contacts list, missing Jenny’s name, pressing the red button by mistake, and having to enter the list again. Damn it, he needed to get up, stir himself, have a strong coffee and a shower.

He smiled at the memory of that morning’s shower. Her deep sigh as she came, her leg hooked around his. The warmth as he soaped her down. Her look of surprise when she’d found him hard again so soon …

Her name wasn’t in his contacts list. That was weird. And then he frowned, because he couldn’t remember her mobile number. He’d never had to; whenever he called or texted her, the number was already entered in his phone.

“Fuck it.” He stood and stretched, and all the while his eyes were darting left and right and something felt wrong.

“Hello?” he called, because the silence was becoming oppressive. But no one replied. He hadn’t expected them to, because if they had come home earlier and found him asleep, Holly would have leapt on him, bouncing on his chest until he woke so that she could tell him about her day, the shops they’d visited, what she’d had for lunch, and the jokes Uncle Jonathan had told.

He began to stride from the room, blinked, then froze.

There was a picture missing from the wall beside the flat-screen TV. His and Jenny’s wedding photograph—unobtrusive, yet one of his favorite images of them together. They’d spent almost a thousand dollars on an official wedding photographer, but this snap had come from Jonathan’s camera, capturing more of their love and happiness than any amount of posing could ever find.

And now it was gone.

“Okay,” Jim said. “Okay.” He glanced around the room. The TV looked different—same size, same sleek black shape, but …

It was a different make.

“That’s just—”

Just before he’d fallen asleep, he’d noticed Marv the Moose sitting on the floor in front of the TV. Night, Marv, he’d said, smiling because it made him think of how Holly cuddled the thing the same way every single night, snug under her left arm with its face pointing up at hers. But now Marv had vanished as well.

“Okay,” he said again, then snapped his phone open again and scanned down for Jonathan’s number. He called, and as the ringing tone whispered in his ear he shoved aside his unsettling thoughts. He was still tired and confused from his afternoon sleep, his legs hadn’t woken properly yet, and maybe he’d dreamed something weird again—something that still impressed upon him without him being able to remember anything.

“Hey,” Jonathan said when he answered. “How’s it hangin’?”

“Less than nine inches,” Jim said.


“Nothing. Are Jenny and Holly still with you?”


“Jenny. Holly. They must be still with you, because they didn’t take our car. I was just wondering when they’d be home.”

Jonathan was silent for a few seconds. Jim heard his agent breathing softly, and he listened for Holly’s conspiratorial giggle as she watched her uncle Jonathan playing a joke on Daddy.

“Say that again. What are you talking about?” Jonathan asked.

“Jenny and Holly. Where are they?”

“Who the hell are Jenny and Holly?”

“Jonathan, stop screwing around. I was going to get takeout tonight, and I need to know when they’re coming home so that—”

“Have you been drinking?” Jonathan asked.