Upstairs Cathy calls Lenny, hurriedly, nervous, overwhelmed and annoyed but concerned with the thing in front of her. Downstairs, in the middle of her message warning him off, the doorbell rings.
Paul's confused by the artist at the door; Cathy comes zooming down the stairs and she introduces him to her husband. She lies terribly, as Lenny covers a smile with his hands. Paul's gregarious, friendly, welcoming, wonderful. Lenny can't deny him. Lenny comes in for a drink, and they smile nervously and sigh, one breath. Conspirators. "I am freaking out!" she whispers, as she pours her lover his first drink. "A lot of anxiety!"
Lenny talks her down, with the facts: "It's a party, thrown just for you. So have a couple of drinks, talk to your friends. Enjoy yourself." Cathy doesn't want to have a couple of drinks or talk to her friends or enjoy herself: She wants the Bahamas. "I want to be on a beach without my shirt on, no sunscreen, sunning myself with wild abandon. Do you see what happens when I try and do something spontaneous? I get screwed out of it!" But the flight is late and the guests are old, he points out. "Maybe you can have it all."
Lenny is a bad idea, Cathy says, with a good head on his shoulders. They repair back to the party singly. He touches her hip and she smoothes the touch away. Sean's eyes, coming in from the backyard, grow wide.
"Well, at least you're not a racist! I saw that little caress, very little gets past me. So. Is that your lover? Has that black cock been inside your white vagina?" He can barely think about shocking her, so shocked is Cathy's brother. She rolls her eyes and heads out to the party, where Adam and Brent are passing appetizers.
"Dad ordered a bunch of stuff from this Asian place because you like Chinese food. These are called, um, bukkake." She pops it into her mouth as Brent and Adam grin quietly at each other. "Bukkake! Yum!" He smiles at his mother. She thanks the boys and notes how sweet Adam can be. He smiles, and they head into the party: "Bukkake, fresh bukkake. Fresh bukkake." Adam has shown, of course, a marked predilection for just this delicacy, in the past. "I'll have a bukkake!" calls one of the guests. It's the best party ever.
Aunt Allison approaches, in a tiny zebra dress, face stretched tight. Fighting off age, fighting off death. Not quite as old as Marlene, but not at all as beautiful either. Cathy's eyes are wide. "You look like you're getting younger, not older!" Aunt Allison says. It isn't a compliment by the time Cathy returns it. Allison doesn't notice, just praises her body: "You could still shop in the Juniors department!" Aunt Allison pretends it's for the prices -- "Got this baby: Thirty bucks!" -- and Cathy congratulates her on her thrift, before heading away for another drink.
There was one time, long before this, where it could've gone south. A medical scare, a nasty best friend, sabotage, financial collapse, forces arrayed against them. But they didn't talk about it. It didn't matter. Samantha knew his history when she met him, before she ever fell in love with him, before she even could see him that way. John had heard all her worst stories before he ever asked her out; he'd always thought of her as one of the guys and -- pretty as she was, delicate and fine -- she'd always felt pressure to measure up: One-night stands, dirty stories, burping on occasion. Pretending to drink more than she really had; pretending to have had those one-night stands. It was less of a love story, more of a negotiation, like a treaty or a business deal, like a movie script with studio notes. Samantha and John, they tunneled toward each other, through all the reasons no and ended up with only one answer: Yes.
Rebecca is shocked by Paul's Aunt Allison: "What's with her face?" she finally asks, after Cathy lets her twist for a moment. They laugh. It's terrible, Cathy says, her face. "She can't leave it alone."
Rebecca doesn't know the people at the party, Cathy's friends, and it makes her feel lost. An illustration of time. "They're not friends, the way we were friends: Coworkers of Paul's, a lot of parents of Adam's friends. I mean, Adam's unknowingly been choosing my friends since he was two." Rebecca wouldn't know anything about that, she says, but she doesn't mean it like Rugby Slut meant it: She means we make choices.
"How's about this for an old friend? I'm making What The Hell shots." Cathy can't believe it, the sudden continuity between there and here, but Rebecca shrugs. "They're different every time," remember. And if it's ever perfect, she gets so drunk she doesn't remember how she did it. Every time is the first time. What the hell.
Cathy and Rebecca tip them back -- "What the hell?" -- in ritual, and their faces sour like a pair of freaks. Rebecca stares at Adam as Cathy tells him that of course he can't drink on her birthday. "He's so handsome!" says Rebecca. "You know, he looks just as if you and Paul had a baby!" Cathy realizes she's not entirely being funny, just distracted, and smiles. "We did." They toast to babies and toss back another What the Hell.
Paul ushers Lenny over from the family photos, taking his seat in the hallway, on the antique bench with the embroidered panels she would never let him drink on, when he lived here. "Lenny, help me out. I cannot drink whiskey alone. I mean, I will if it's the last resort, but then I'll hate myself for it." Lenny compliments his house, which is not his house, and Paul gives her the credit.
"Oh yeah, thanks, yeah. It was a little beat up when we moved in, but Cathy really whipped it into shape, you know. I mean, I'm a creative guy, but I need a computer, you know? I'm virtually creative," Paul says to the artist. The man who works with his hands and jets off to the Bahamas and sleeps with married schoolteachers. Paul's life is to be caught between the shell and the soft place, to be free and yet successful; it's the reason Sean bothers him so much and it's the reason he loved Lenny the second that he saw him. And it's the reason that Cathy likes Lenny, too: He's the part of Paul that Paul needs most desperately to live. He's the reason Paul can't help but see her the way that he does: So that he feels more like Lenny and less like the names Sean calls him.
"Cathy: True artist, you know. Albeit repressed, if you ask me." They sit; Lenny cocks a smile at Paul and tries to pay attention. "I mean, she makes these cards for Adam, our son, the first day of school every year. She like, decorates them with puffy paint, and like does these little collages, you know, with pictures and stuff. I mean, what kind of person takes that amount of time to make somebody feel special, you know?"
What kind of person remembers it later? Paul admits to Lenny that they're going through a bit of a rough patch, and they toast her, Paul's eyes glistening: "Probably the nicest person I ever met." Lenny catches an angle on Paul that Cathy forgot to look for, something in the angle of the light. The strength of his feelings, and the clarity of his worship. For a moment Paul Jamison is beautiful.
What the hell. They spent one semester designing matching tattoos, the girls explain to Marlene and some guests -- What The Hells all the time -- but when it came down to it, the night of their elegant cursive A Pair Of Freaks tramp stamps, of course, Cathy couldn't go through with it. She started crying; she still feels guilty. Rebecca pulls forward, Cathy pulls backward, they hurt each other. This is love: