Excerpts for Exiles
By Allison Lynn
Copyright © 2013
All right reserved.
NATE BEDECKER STUMBLED as he stepped out of the Jeep. He briefly, embarrassingly (though no one was looking — he’d checked with a quick sweep of his eyes) tripped over the reedy thatch of grass that bulged above the Newport curb. Three hours of driving and he’d forgotten how to use his legs. It was like old age, being thirty-eight: His muscles had no staying power anymore; the first steps he took after rising from bed each morning were a chore, his knees cracking and his ankles turning. Should he be worried? That question hovered each time his muscles strained beyond their comfort zone. He was fine, he told himself. He was normal. As proof, he had only to glance at his friends, a ready control group of hipsters and sad sacks, singletons and proud poppas, travel addicts, hedge fund honchos, and workaholic captains of industry who happened to be Nate’s own age. Every single one of them was showing signs of wear. En masse, they were losing their stamina, their hair, their ability to digest dairy.
It was inevitable, these slow-motion side effects of aging. What Nate worried about, instead, was the onset of more acute ailments. He was on the constant lookout for sudden muscle twitches and the wham-bang of a memory lapse, symptoms of a deeper physiologic flaw waiting to emerge. So far, Nate appeared to be okay. His handshake remained strong. He usually held firm footing when he walked. Today’s stumble, he told himself, was simply a product of the long drive.
“Whoa boy, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Emily said, walking around the car to where Nate stood. Her eyes were on the shingle (Robert Daugherty, Esq.) jammed into the lawn to their left. This was as close to downtown as a person could get in Newport, and yet the square, clapboard office building had a shingle hung outside. And a picket fence. Around Nate, the town loomed in various shades of elm and weathered brick.
“He’s a solo operator?” Emily asked.
“He’s got a secretary and an intern,” Nate said, shaking out his legs. Ferguson and Neiman, the two senior partners at Nate’s new office, had used Daugherty for their own house sales and recommended him unconditionally. “Ferguson and Neiman say he’s the best.”
Ferguson and Neiman also said, insistently, that Nate wouldn’t regret this move, this complete upending of his and Emily’s life from high-rise Manhattan to scenic Rhode Island, a place that Nate hadn’t, ever, expected to call home. He hadn’t honestly expected to leave Manhattan. Not yet, at least. New York had become a security blanket, wrapping him and Emily in tight, keeping them close to their friends, to reliable restaurants, twenty-four-hour emergency services, and a top-notch gym on their block. Security was the wrong word for it, though, given the price that it all cost. Their life savings and then some. Last year, rent for their apartment passed the $5,000-a-month mark, and the cramped two-bedroom didn’t boast any luxuries. No washer-dryer, no fireplace, no outdoor space, no second bathroom. They were thankful simply to have an elevator in the building and a daytime doorman to help lug in the baby supplies.
It was staggering when Nate thought about it, though he tried not to: posttax they were paying more than $60,000 a year in rent and had no equity to show for it. Other than the Jeep, which he’d spent $300 a month to park in a bargain lot by the East River, he and Emily owned nothing except an expensive New York lifestyle in which even the simple pleasure of eating out with friends — something they’d given up finally, making pathetic excuses every time they were invited to a restaurant — could cause a significant crater in their bank accounts. For the past two years they’d been skating just above disaster, putting on a good face at parties, trying not to eye their neighbors’ effortless lives with envy. “Do you know how much Okite countertops cost?” Emily remarked to Nate, in a stunned whisper, when they’d spent the weekend at his officemate’s beach house in June. The bungalow’s kitchen had two separate wine refrigerators and an induction cooktop that had been shipped in from Denmark.
“Normal people can’t afford to live here anymore,” Sam Tully said last winter at the Belkins’ awkward, tepid Christmas party. “Unless you’re making $600K a year, you’re priced out of the real-estate market. You’re better off living in Jersey.”
The proclamation hit Nate with a thwack, as if he’d been found out. On Wall Street, there were only heroes and also-rans, and after fifteen years in M&A, Nate was clearly not one of the anointed. He was hundreds of thousands of dollars a year behind ($450K to be exact, but who was counting?) the guys in his class who were earning that $600k, the guys who would eventually make managing director. Some of them already had. Nate, meanwhile, was pulling in a base-level salary and negligible bonus — not quite enough to maintain a lifestyle that got more expensive by the week. The goal then, as he saw it, was to get out before he turned into a joke, a poverty-ridden hanger-on. He’d seen the older also-rans, the smart ones, leave Wall Street for in-house positions at reputable corporations or for smaller banks, in Chicago and Houston. Each year there was an international crew, too, affably unexceptional associates who transferred to Venezuela or Singapore. Word had it that anyone could make managing director in Singapore — but the title didn’t mean much there. It was like grade inflation in college.
In truth, it didn’t matter where you went. The aim for the middle-feeders was simply to get out of their dead-end Wall Street jobs while they still had something to offer. “Choose the path of least embarrassment,” Nate’s father, George Bedecker, used to tell his sons on the rare occasion that he happened to be in the room with them. “Guard your reputation and flaunt your skills,” he’d tell the eight-year-old Nate. “They’re your only valuable assets.”
What about your family? Nate always wanted to ask. What about valuing the people you live with? On the nights when George was home, young Nate went to bed with his radio on, sports scores and play-by-plays, so that the last voice he heard before falling asleep wasn’t his father’s. If Nate died in his slumber, if a nuclear winter or an alien invasion or a fatal mystery virus hit the Bedecker house during the night, he’d die with the sound of a Cleveland Indians home run in his head, not his dad’s misplaced aphorisms. Thirty years later, though, it was the old man’s voice that resonated when Nate got the call about an opportunity in Newport. His was the advice that Nate followed when he chose to save both his reputation and his bank account by jumping ship from Manhattan and taking the position.
The job was with a young fund being run by two older, established money managers whose home base was in Boston. They’d needed a new associate, preferably with Wall Street experience, to man their Newport satellite office. Nate was an ideal candidate. He had the experience (he was decent at his work, simply not the best in New York) and the incentive to move into a smaller pond. Halfway through the interview process he began to truly covet the job, knowing in his heart that it was his chance to leave the rat race, to lay down roots in the kind of place where he’d be ahead of the game from the start, where lawyers protected their interests with nothing but kind words and a picket fence. He and Emily would be able to live large, or at least respectably, in Rhode Island. If nothing else, they’d be able to pay off their bills every month. That was the goal, Nate realized, a modest goal yet nearly impossible to attain in New York City. So now he stood outside a Newport real-estate lawyer’s office, watching his legs for spasms (none, he was fine) and preparing to fetch the keys for his own first home: a ’60s-era faux-Victorian that sat wedged on a postage-stamp lot with a wonky plastic swing set in the backyard.
Emily stepped closer to the lawyer’s squat office building, just a door down from where they had parked. “This looks like the saltbox my grandfather lived in when I was a kid,” she said.
“It probably way outdates your grandfather. We’re in the historic district, I think.”
Nate opened the back door of the Cherokee. He leaned in, unhooked Trevor from the car seat, and hoisted the boy into the New England air. Trevor squirmed silently, compressing his body into a small ball, still waking up from his ride-long nap. When he finally opened his eyes, he quickly closed them again and held one of his small, tight fists up against his face, apparently unsure of what he was seeing. All that grass! Trevor had spent his entire ten-month childhood in the city and was more at ease in small, enclosed spaces than around chlorophyll. He was already detail-oriented: more captivated by the tiny than the grand, more entranced by the wisps of yarn that frayed from his baby blanket than by sweeping vistas. So while other parents dreamed about moving to the country for their children, Nate worried that this relocation would traumatize his son. The boy had just learned to navigate their apartment, crawling from the kitchen to the living room (stopping to ponder each crevice in the wood floor) without scraping his knees on the high molding. Occasionally Nate himself lay on the hardwood floor of their now-gone Manhattan home, trying to get his own glimpse of Trevor’s perspective, but instead all he ever saw was his own childhood, his own skewed outlook.
“Hold on — ” Emily came to Nate’s side by the Jeep’s back door. She fished the car keys out of his pocket and popped open the hatchback, revealing all of their goods to the Newport street. They’d densely stuffed the trunk with everything they’d need until the movers arrived in a week, squeezing their belongings into the car and the air out as if preparing their property for pickling. Emily slid Trevor’s stroller — a Bugaboo they’d nicknamed Ollie, as if it were their other child — from its tight spot at the top of the pile.
“Goddamn!” Emily said as the stroller thudded loudly to the pavement. High-tech didn’t mean lightweight. “This thing is going to kill us one of these days.” She slammed the trunk shut. Trevor continued to squirm in Nate’s arms as Emily propped Ollie open. Straightening the wheels, snapping the seat into the chassis — it was all second nature to them by now. Emily slipped the car keys back into Nate’s pocket as he lowered the boy into the carriage.
Bob Daugherty stood in the door to his office.
“Just in time. Get the hell inside,” he said, waving Nate, Emily, and the stroller through the entryway. He was all kinetic energy, not the calm rock he’d been the few times Nate had spoken to him previously.
“It’s good to be here,” Nate said. He followed Bob past the reception area, where the secretary’s seat was deserted. The staff must have been sent home already for the holiday weekend.
In the inner office, Bob sat behind the desk and Nate lowered himself into a chair in front of it. The desk was ornate, constructed from traditional heavy mahogany, with worn leather accents. The walls of the office — other than the narrow sliver by the door, which was adorned with Bob’s framed diplomas (Bates, UConn) — were erratic, crammed with Japanese silk screens and odd oversize watercolors of Chinese lanterns.
“Hey, Em?” Nate called to Emily, who sat in the empty reception room with Trevor. “Come in here.” She and Nate were equal owners of the house, both names on the deed. They might not have a marriage license, but now they had a kid and a house to bind them. It was the real thing.
“Hey,” Emily said as she slunk into the office. “Everything set?”
“Everything’s fine. Glad you made it in. Holiday traffic can be a bitch in this town,” Bob said. Nate relaxed.
“It feels like we spent hours on that bridge,” Emily said. “We pretty much eased our way into Newport, but we’re here, at least. We hit a bird.”
“It’s beautiful, though, that view coming in,” Nate said, giving Emily a brief glance. Bob didn’t need to know about the bird. The bird was fine. “We could have timed it better than Friday at five, for sure,” he said.
“For sure,” Bob repeated with a tight grin. He passed a folder across the desk and leaned forward, sharp elbows on mahogany. “It’s all in there. Your copies of the paperwork, two sets of spanking-new keys. I’ll be heading away for the weekend, immediately, to be frank, so if you have questions, ask now. Give it all a good read.” On the two front corners of Bob’s desk sat sprawling bonsai trees. Miniature, shrunken topiaries, like Charlie Brown Christmas trees, hopelessly stunted.
Nate slid the papers out of the envelope and palmed the keys. The papers were warm, but the keys were cold and light, like a space-age alloy. He quickly eyed the contract (they’d already combed through it carefully) and then handed it to Emily, who gave it her own compulsory once-over. If the sellers had snuck an insidious clause into the text, Nate and Emily weren’t going to catch it today.
“I think we’ve already got this; it looks great,” Nate said. “Shit, the house is ours.”
Bob nodded. “You own a home, kids. Newport’s newest residents, for what it’s worth. That and a quarter will get you, well, nothing.”
Nate laughed, halfheartedly. Ferguson and Neiman had worked hard to sell Nate on the town, as well as the job. Though both partners lived in Newport only on the weekends, they’d lauded the local school systems (public and private), the summer boating season, the audacious diversity of the year-round residents, and each had said to Nate, separately, “You, of all people, will be impressed by Newport’s architecture.” They hadn’t mentioned Nate’s father by name, never stated outright that the thrill of possibly working with George Bedecker’s son had perhaps, maybe, spurred them to interview Nate in the first place, but Nate understood. He was the son of a heavyweight. Ever since Frank Gehry completed the Guggenheim in Bilbao and Santiago Calatrava torqued his first skyscraper, architects had become rock stars again. They unabashedly lusted after the awe that Frank Lloyd Wright had inspired more than fifty years ago, and when that awe proved elusive they each settled for popular acclaim, instead. Nate’s father had been raised in Rhode Island, not far from here. Yet when he first hung out his shingle in the 1960s, he claimed Cleveland as his home base. From there (and later Chicago), he’d spent the last half century designing structures that were minimalist and industrial and dateless — though some critics argued otherwise — and functional. For a time he’d been well known for this. He’d spawned the short-lived neo-Bauhaus movement, erecting angular university libraries and stacked-box office buildings through which tens of thousands of anonymous businessmen continued to pass each day. But what had George built lately? Nate hadn’t seen much.
Nate hadn’t, in truth, been looking. He worked hard to keep his eyes averted from the architecture scene, but with that one line, “You, of all people, will be impressed by the architecture,” George’s presence entered Nate’s new work life the way it entered all of his relationships, the same way that the senior Bedecker’s buildings were specifically designed to cast imposing shadows over their neighboring constructs. In contrast, Nate and Emily’s new house was small and compact and not showy at all. Any decent architect would dismiss it out of hand. It was too real life. It was derivative
. It was derivative of derivatives
. Nate loved it.
It was in this new home that tonight, after Nate and Emily stepped over the threshold for the first time, Nate was going to talk to her about his history. He’d promised himself that he would finally open up to her about the way he checked his body for shakes every day. He’d talk to her about how, last week, he’d briefly felt his emotions grow irrationally out of control. The movers had been in the apartment at the time, tossing his stereo components through the air. So Nate’s outburst might simply have been a rational response. Or it might have been a sign that he was sick. Sick. He liked the word’s implications of not merely physical ailment but psychological perversion as well. It felt like a joke. A laugh: that was something Nate could handle.
Nate took the contract back from Emily and returned the papers and the keys to the envelope. He opened his mouth to say something insignificant, anything, to Bob. “Hey,” he said, like a dimwit. “Okay.”
“Ready to move in?” Emily said.
Nate nodded and stood. He said to the lawyer, “Thanks so much. That was easy.”
“It’s nothing,” said Bob. “Really, my pleasure. It’s my job. You need anything, just call. Not this weekend, of course,” he grinned, and Nate noticed a packed suitcase in the corner of the office. A canvas tennis bag with the racket handle poking out of a corner was balanced atop the luggage. “It’s hell over Columbus Day around here, frankly a carnival. Tourists will be leaching out of the woodwork for the next three days. I’ll be back on Tuesday when the commotion dies down.”
Excerpted from The Exiles
by Allison Lynn
Copyright © 2013 by Allison Lynn.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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