Océane

by Jeanne Troy

At the end of November, a harsh storm swept across the northwest. Alyssa’s flight was canceled because of high winds and heavy sideways snow at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. The weather was milder in New York. Hudson made pasta while Alyssa stood out on the balcony of his apartment, drinking warm cider. Each time she exhaled her breath became visible, mingling with the steam from the cup. Hudson was dividing the pasta into two bowls when she went back in. He added butter and parmesan to hers, and tomato sauce to his. “Have you heard anything from James?”

“Yeah, he called a few hours ago,” Alyssa said. They sat on the couch; the lilac throw blanket and the set of pinstripe-decorated bowls were likely the influence of Hudson’s wife, Charlotte, who attended graduate school in New Jersey. “His truck got stuck on ice on the way home—and the power’s out.”

Hudson swallowed a bite of pasta with a sympathetic grimace. “Remember the last time we lost power?”

“In the summer—was it ‘04?”

“‘03,” Hudson corrected her, “but that wasn’t the last time.”

Alyssa pushed a piece of penne around with her fork. “At the shack, right?”

“The shack” was their name for a small beach house on Plum Island, a short train trip from Boston, which belonged to Hudson’s parents. Summers all through their adolescence had been spent on the island, though now Alyssa hadn’t visited for more than two years.

“That thunderstorm.” She didn’t remember it well; Hudson saw this, from the way her eyebrows furrowed together in concentration, and he gently reminded her. “We pulled the box of candles out of the closet—and lit the whole place up. And played Scrabble, remember?”

“All night.”

“Best of five. You won with—”

“Keyboard.” Alyssa’s smile was small, smug.

Hudson laughed, and shook his head. “Fucking ‘keyboard’. Fucking triple-word score.”

“And the seven-tile bonus.” Fragments of Alyssa’s memory returned, coaxed by Hudson’s words, and the sound of his voice, and the very nearness of him. Her expression turned wistful. “And the sand was all crusted over after the rain.”

She hadn’t forgotten it all, but the things she did remember, Hudson didn’t mention—sharing a bed for four nights, and the way she would shower with the door half-open to let him have a glimpse, and the time she slid her hand into his boxers when he was half-asleep, though nothing came of it.

*

Alyssa slept on the couch. Her sleep was unsettled, a little anxious with thoughts of James and deep snow.

In the morning, they walked six blocks to a café on the edge of the NYU campus, and settled in at a window-side table. At least half of the other seated customers had a book or an open laptop next to their breakfast.

“Alyssa,” Hudson said.

“This chai is watery.”

“Alyssa.”

“Doesn’t taste like much.” Alyssa peered at Hudson over the plastic cover of her cup. “What?”

Hudson didn’t quite look at her when he spoke. “Charlotte doesn’t know. No one does, really.”

“No one knows—what?”

“I slept with someone.”

Alyssa lowered her cup to the table, and held it there, her fingers laced and her voice tense. “You what.”

“Yeah.”

“Who?”

Hudson took off his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. His vision, Alyssa knew, was blurry without them. It seemed, to her, a deliberate action; when he looked at her, the details of her face would be gone. “She’s—she was an undergrad. In the class I taught last semester.”

Alyssa stared hard at him, then at her cup. When she didn’t reply for a moment, Hudson ventured, “Alyssa?”

“What’s her name?”

“What?” Hudson hesitated. He put his glasses on again. “Océane. But listen—it’s done. She’s gone, now; she left the school. There’s nothing going on anymore.”

“It’s done?” Instead of eating, Alyssa picked apart her croissant into flaky bits.

“Yeah.”

“Bullshit.” She took a breath, then spoke more quietly, almost in a hiss. “If it was done, why would you tell me?”

“I don’t know,” Hudson muttered. “I guess—because you’re someone to tell. I didn’t think I was going to, but I—I keep thinking about her.”

Alyssa was silent again, and Hudson watched her, his shoulders slightly hunched. Finally she said, “Can I have your keys?”

“Um.”

“Just give me your keys, okay?”

As Hudson dug his hand into his pocket, Alyssa rose out of her seat. He handed them over, and Alyssa pulled on her jacket, then went toward the door with a shudder. “What the fuck kind of name is Océane, anyway?”

“It’s French,” was Hudson’s dull answer, and he let it trail off.

He folded his arms, slumped in his seat, and considered the croissant, which had been diminished to a cluster of large crumbs.

*

When he returned, about an hour later, he found her bag packed and by the door. Alyssa was tucked up against one arm of the couch, her legs folded underneath her, thumbing through a collection of David Foster Wallace essays taken from the bookshelf.

“Hey,” Hudson said.

“Hey,” she responded, low. She didn’t look up at him.

“When’s your flight?” he asked, but received no answer.

The seething quiet reigned for more than a minute. Eventually Hudson came over to stand nearby the couch, then sank onto it at the opposite end. “I’m sorry. Should I not have told you?”

“No. Whatever.” Alyssa’s tone was clipped. “It’s fine.”

Hudson rubbed his fingers against his jaw, feeling several days of early beard growth. His eyes shifted to Alyssa’s face, and away again—to Charlotte’s ballet flats on the floor, to the Pulp Fiction poster, to the analog clock. “I trust you,” he said. The situation seemed to require a certain degree of delicacy. “I figured you’d, you know—understand, in some small way.”

“I do. I get it, okay? It’s fine.”

“But you’re mad.”

“I’m not.” Alyssa snapped the book shut. She kept her palms to each cover, pressing. “I mean—yeah. I am. But I have no reason to be. So, whatever. It’s fine.”

“No reason?”

“No good reason,” she specified.

“Alyssa.”

The last vowel fluttered away into an uneasy breath, drawn in, on the verge of saying something else—but Alyssa spoke, her words abrupt and hard.

“It should have been me. That’s it. That’s everything, right there.”

She stopped; she took a few breaths in and out. Then she repeated, quietly, “It should have been me.”

Hudson said, “I didn’t—think—you still wanted that?”

What he didn’t say was: James.

“I don’t, anymore.” Alyssa’s gaze shifted and dragged along the walls, the windows, until it found the smooth glass face of the clock, and latched on. The second-hand twitched eight times before she added, “But I did.”

Still she watched the clock—calculating the hours until her flight, until she’d land in Seattle; calculating the years between the two of them.