“What was her name?” Molly asked.
And if she'd stopped there, Jude's answer would have been clear. She was always Lucy.
But Molly hadn't finished. “What was her name? The reason you stopped writing?”
Jude didn't know how to say, that reason wasn't a her at all.
It was a gray March day, the streets of New York carpeted with slush, although the wind was still so cold, Jude couldn't understand why there wasn't actual snow. In the top floor apartment, cold air leaked in around the edges of the windows, warring with the unreliable radiators that were built into the walls. Stupid American system, Jude thought.
So they wore jumpers – sweaters, he reminded himself – to keep warm, huddled under quilts and blankets, smoked a lot.
The afternoon Jude stopped writing, Sadie and the band were at a matinee gig. It was before they were friends, really; back when he still thought of Sadie as his landlady. So Sadie and the guys did their thing, and Jude and Max did theirs.
That day they were lounging on Jude's mattress, since his radiator was – uncharacteristically – working. Max had appropriated Sadie's record player, so they smoked and talked to a backdrop of winding guitar solos. It was like dozens of other afternoons, both before and after.
Until the moment, the particular moment, Max passed the joint to Jude. The touch of their fingers sent an alarmingly pleasant shock through Jude's body, and he reflexively stretched out his legs. One foot connected with a forgotten beer bottle, which tipped over onto the floor. Jude watched in stoned fascination as the amber liquid spread across a small pile of papers. The top item was an envelope, still sealed, with a British stamp affixed to the corner.
“Huh,” Jude muttered.
“Hey, you gonna smoke, or what?” Max asked, leaning on Jude's shoulder.
For a few seconds, Jude continued observing Molly's soggy letter. Then he came to the deliberate conclusion that Max's increasingly close, warm, solid presence beside him was far more important than trading pieces of paper with a girl an ocean away.
“Got a better idea,” Jude said, depositing the joint in a nearby ashtray.
His hand wrapped around the back of Max's neck, and when he leaned in for a kiss, Max's mouth was hot and sweet and just the right combination of yielding and pushing back.
One afternoon. One night. It could have been the beginning of something, maybe. But Prudence picked the very next day to come in through the window and, briefly but completely, sweep Max off his feet.
A couple of months later, when Lucy showed up at the front door, Jude could forget he had ever wanted Max. If he was honest with himself, though, she wasn't the reason he'd stopped writing.
“Lucy,” he said, swallowing hard and not looking Molly in the eye. “Her name was Lucy.”