On July thirteenth, in 574,
John III ended his reign as Catholic Pope. In
1645, Aleksei Romanov
succeeded his father, Michael, as Tsar of Russia; in 1700, the Treaty of
Constantinople established peace after the Russo-Turkish war;
Swedish-American inventor John
Ericsson file for a
patent for his screw propeller design in 1835; Babe
Ruth hit his 700th career
home run in 1934; Space shuttle STS-70 (Discovery 20) launched in 1995;
and on July thirteenth, in 2002, David Van Jones was born.
He wasn’t supposed to be. Born, that is. According to David’s brother,
Robert, David’s father wired abortion money to his escort—after she
emailed the news of her pregnancy—but the broad blew the cash on a
Gucci bag. Which she only used for a few months. Childbirth ravaged her
ninety-pound body, eliminating any potential testimony to repudiate
As the story went, David’s father, Bruce, spent July thirteenth, 2002,
in the Pacific Ocean neighboring his Miami beach house. His cell phone
lacked service on the water. But as soon as he docked his yacht, Bruce’s
phone buzzed with nine voicemails from the hospital. In the span of
twelve hours, Bruce Van Jones transformed from a fifty-year-old
investment banker to the sole parent of a newborn boy.
The baby was a burden, but no more than the copious lawsuits Bruce
countered from bitter business partners. Both could be resolved with
money, and Bruce had plenty of it. A nanny, driver, and all of the toys
David’s little heart desired would sufficiently raise the kid into
adulthood—the trifecta worked for Robert.
However, David wasn’t like Robert. Robert’s childhood imbued insolence.
And audacity. Robert evolved from a middle school bully to high school
football captain to Ivy League frat boy to a ruthless hedge fund
manager, and New York city’s most eligible bachelor, even though he had
three girlfriends. Robert developed into a miniature Bruce. But David
didn’t develop at all.
July 13th, 2020.
Happy eighteenth birthday to me, David muttered at 10:27—the time
his mother allegedly popped him out—staring at the ostentatious
Rolex his father shipped him. The watch felt like a boulder appendaged
to his wrist and clashed with David’s jeans and white t-shirt. Robert
called David’s self-esteem and wardrobe a catch-22: David had lame style
because he had low self-esteem; David had low self-esteem because he had
lame style. Although David didn’t exude confidence in elementary school,
either, when Nanny Josephine dressed him in Christian Dior Kids.
The watch wasn’t David’s only gift. Bruce hadn’t been home in five
weeks, but he sent David a cryptic birthday package. The watch, a bottle
of Hennessy, and a handwritten letter.
Happy eighteenth birthday, son. I am proud of the man you’re becoming
and wish I could be there to celebrate. I hope your summer is going well
and you’re preparing for your first year of university.
Don’t make plans on your birthday afternoon—I have a surprise.
Shower and gel your hair the way Robert does, you know the way he slicks
it to the side. And wear that blue Ralph Lauren button down and Armani
khakis. At 11:45, Jack will drive you to the Hilton on Jericho Turnpike,
where I’ve reserved the penthouse suite for you. Tell the lady at the
desk you’re Bruce Van Jones’ son and she’ll give you your room key.
Drink the Hennessy on the ride over. And feel free to order anything
else you’d like from room service. If you don’t want to stay the night,
call Jack to drive you home.
Most importantly: have fun. And relax. Today, you are a man.
Take care, son. Dad loves you.
David typically ignored his father’s requests. Not that there were much
of them, because Bruce was a man of few words—his communication
seldom extended beyond asking if David received his money
transfers—so a handwritten letter was … out of character. And for
that reason, David felt compelled to oblige.
David cracked open the Hennessy and swigged from the bottle. He cringed
as the amber liquid coated his throat. The last time David consumed
alcohol was last year, when Robert ordered him three jumbo margaritas at
Pancho Villas. The drinks were so sweet that David hardly tasted the
patron. Or because he was too overjoyed to notice–that was the first
birthday Robert spent with him in years.
David poured the liquor into a silver flask, locked his front door, and
sat on the porch rocking chair. Bruce bought David an Audi the day after
he passed his road test. The last time David saw the family driver was
two years ago, when Jack drove David to the airport to attend Bruce’s
sixty-sixth beach house party. Bruce invited every relevant politician
and businessman; he needed David present in order to preserve his
“loving father” masquerade. David initially objected—he had two
exams that week—but his father’s secretary emailed both teachers
one-hundred-dollar Starbucks gift cards.
David squeezed his eyes shut and chugged from his flask. That had to be
why Bruce called Jack—he wanted David to drink. Not much of a
surprise; Bruce always told David he’d “loosen up” with some liquor
running through his veins. David hadn’t uttered his first words until
age seven, so alcohol didn’t seem like much of an antidote to his
introversion. Although perhaps David would’ve developed differently if
Nanny Josephine spiked his baby formula.
Jack’s black Range Rover rolled onto the Van Jones’ 7,000 square feet.
David hated the mansion’s red-brick, half-mile long driveway, but not as
much as he loathed the stupid Zeus fountain centered in the middle,
water spouting from the statue’s genitals. Or the rose-gold, diamond
chandelier in the foyer. Bruce’s interior design taste was as gaudy as
David clutched the railing as he stood, the Hennessy rushing to his
head. Man, this stuff was strong. Jack rolled down his window. “Happy
birthday, son. It’s good to see you.” His quiet British accent sounded
like home. David teetered to the car and swung open the door, throwing
himself into the backseat. The Beatles hummed from Jack’s speaker and
his signature pine air freshener permeated the vehicle. “It’s good to
see you too.” After the sentence left David’s mouth, he realized he
meant it. Jack accompanied David’s childhood more than double the amount
“Your father told me you’ll be attending Yale in the fall. Are you
David gulped from his flask. Yale. Right. He forgot about that. More
accurately, was trying to forget. “Um, I don’t know.” He took another
sip. “Actually, I do know. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, so no,
I’m not excited.” That was the first time David spoke the words aloud.
Not that anyone else had asked the question.
“Yale is a phenomenal university. You’ll be following in your father and
brother’s footsteps. Why wouldn’t you be excited?” That was precisely
the problem. David didn’t want to follow his family’s footsteps; he’d
rather sprint in the opposite direction.
David took another sip. “I didn’t want to go to Yale.” Also the first
time he admitted the sentiment aloud, because the guilt ached like a
migraine. David’s spot belonged to a student who earned it; he didn’t
want to go to Yale and didn’t deserve to go to Yale. With zero
extracurriculars and a B average at best, if David’s father weren’t a
top beneficiary, the admissions faculty would’ve assumed David’s
application was a prank.
Jack glanced at David in the rearview mirror. He’d been privy to the
fact that David was the “black sheep” of the Van Jones’, and ostensibly,
the conditions hadn’t improved. “Going to celebrate your birthday at the
hotel? Friends coming?” Jack always knew when to change the topic. David
pressed his forehead against the window and closed his eyes. Jack drove
sixty miles an hour, but the street’s surroundings melded like a
“I have no idea,” David slurred, “what I am going to the hotel for.” It
couldn’t be a surprise party, because David didn’t have any friends.
Well, he had one from sleepaway camp a few years ago—David and Max
were the only kids who chose not to participate in color war
festivities—but Max lived on the other side of the country. David’s
pretentious male prep school contained sixty students per grade; he’d
rather cuddle a cactus than hang out with any of them.
Jack pulled into the hotel lot and parked in front of the revolving
doors. David’s heart began to race—seriously, what was he doing
here? Bruce wasn’t much of a trailblazer when it came to gift ideas.
This situation seemed … off. “Have fun, son. Your father said I’ll be
driving you home as well, but he wasn’t sure what time you’d call.” Jack
paused, realizing the oddity of the instruction. “Let me know when you
need me.” David smiled, meekly, and stumbled out of the car.
David was drunk. This much he knew. Stand up straight. Shoulders back
and chin up, he told himself, conjuring Nanny Josephine’s voice. He
missed that woman. She cooked the best lasagna. David sauntered to the
front desk and cleared his throat. “Um, hi? I’m David Van Jones? My
father, Bruce, booked me the penthouse suite?” He bit his tongue,
mentally scolding himself. Nanny Josephine told David he expressed every
statement like a question; he needed to speak with more assertion. Like
Robert. “I’m staying in the penthouse suite,” David restated, louder.
The couple beside David glanced at him.
The receptionist slid the key across the wood countertop. “Checkout is
tomorrow at noon or earlier.” David snatched the key, muttered a thank
you, and scurried towards the elevator. He grabbed his flask from his
pants pocket. Only a few drops left. Might as well finish now. David
stepped into the elevator, beside a mother and two identical twin girls,
and jabbed the top floor button. The elevator lurched like a rocket.
David’s stomach convulsed; he slammed against the wall and grunted,
audibly. The mother glared and squeezed her daughters to her side until
After what seemed like a year, the elevator stopped at the penthouse
suite. David dragged himself to the room and slapped his room key onto
the lock. The sensor flashed green and David thrust himself inside. The
room looked like a palace, but David hardly blinked. Not because of the
liquor—Bruce reserved the nicest suite for every vacation. He rarely
brought David, but Bruce believed Bora Bora, Greece, and Dubai were
places everyone ought to experience.
David collapsed onto the white sheets. “What am I doing here,” he
moaned, his lids drifting, life pummeling like a dodgeball. David
pictured his mother. He had no access to photos of her. When he was
young, he’d conjure how she might’ve looked, as if he were designing a
video game character. The eyes, sometimes would be green, like his, or
perhaps a sky blue, or mocha. Sometimes he’d imagine her as a brunette,
other times fire engine red. Maybe she had freckles, dimples, or a mole
on her right cheek. With each feature he’d feel closer to her, like she
could exist eternally in his creations.
David hadn’t played the game in years, but it provided the same comfort.
A knock interrupted his thoughts. The knock was so quiet that David
thought he imagined it, but the sound persisted. Bruce must’ve
preordered room service. David swung open the door. The girl who stood
before him most definitely did not work for the hotel.
“I’m Abigail.” She smiled, her cherry lips parting over gleaming white
teeth. “You’re David?” She stepped inside, past David, who stood like an
ice sculpture. “I heard today you turned eighteen. Happy birthday.” Her
voice allured David like a Greek siren—soft yet airy, as if she were
divulging secrets. Was this a dream? How drunk was he?
David plopped onto the edge of the bed and rubbed his eyes. Nope, the
girl was not a hallucination. She sat next to him, her knee touching
his. The girl reminded David of Tinkerbell—no more than five feet
tall, doll-like lashes framing doe eyes, perched above a tiny, ski-slope
nose. A sapphire dangled into the girl’s cleavage, her breasts occupying
almost half of her petite torso. “Who are you?” David’s voice cracked.
He swallowed and choked on his spit, seizing him into a coughing spasm.
The girl patted David’s back as he hacked up a lung, but her touch
exacerbated David’s frenzy. She waited for him to semi-catch his breath.
“I am Abigail,” she repeated. “I … know your father and his friends.
They invite me to their parties. And stuff.” Her response hardly
answered David’s question, but he was too wasted to unpack it.
Abigail slipped her fingertips underneath David’s collar. She trailed
from the top of his spine, to his clavicle, to his shirt buttons.
Goosebumps budded David’s skin as she exposed each inch. “Don’t be
nervous,” she whispered, pressing her mouth against David’s ear,
drifting along his neck. David’s heart pounded like a metronome. The
pressure in his pants increased. The girl removed David’s shirt and
nudged him farther onto the bed, resting his head onto the pillow.
Relax. Where had David heard that word before? Well, many times, from
his own conscience, consoling his qualms about starting college, but
more recently… from his father’s letter. Abigail’s lips glided down
David’s chest, to his stomach, past his belly button; she unhooked his
belt and lowered his zipper. Most importantly: have fun. And relax.
Abigail tugged David’s boxers and slacks past his ankles, and grinned,
I have a surprise. Shower and gel your hair the way Robert does,
wear that blue Ralph Lauren button down and Armani khakis
Drink the Hennessy on the ride over.
Most importantly: have fun. And relax.
Today, you are a man.
As David mulled over Bruce’s letter, Abigail took David in her mouth.
Like a key entering a lock, the circumstances of the day suddenly
clicked, and Bruce’s cryptic letter didn’t seem so cryptic.
This couldn’t be real. The situation was too absurd. But the moans
escaping David proved that what was happening was most definitely
happening—he’d never been intimate with a girl, but David watched
enough porn to know that Abigail knew what she was doing. And here she
was, employing those skills as David’s birthday gift.
Abigail pulled her dress over her head, unhooked her bra, and tossed it
on the floor. She placed David’s hands on her chest. The first David
touched. Or saw, in person. Then, like a gymnast, she straddled David.
“Don’t worry, I’m on the pill,” she murmured, as she eased him inside of
her. David squeezed her perfect breasts and groaned. “Fuck.” No, porn
couldn’t prepare him for this.
“You like that?” Abigail asked, as she bounced. David lay like a
starfish, his body paralyzed with pleasure. He closed his eyes. Once
again, his life pummeled him—he saw Robert’s last magazine cover;
Jack picking David up from golf practice; Nanny Josephine icing David’s
knees after a bully tripped him on the playground.
He cracked open his left eye. Abigail’s hair dangled in David’s face.
This time, when he closed his eyes, he saw himself, Bruce, and … his
mother? The woman resembled Abigail, and the man was Bruce, but also …
David. Bruce’s leathery, botoxed skin, and salt and pepper hair
conjoined with David’s lanky body and boyish features.
Abigail mashed her body against David’s. He cried in ecstasy and dread,
because his entire body tingled but the images of himself fucking his
father and mother magnified. Abigail interpreted the reaction to grind
harder and faster; David’s entire body radiated until he exploded. The
visions of himself and his parents intensified in technicolor, until
they faded into static, absorbed into David’s bones.
Abigail hopped off David and laid beside him, exhaling. “How do you
feel?” David’s buzz plummeted and his head pounded, but he wasn’t sober,
either. He wasn’t a kid anymore but he didn’t feel like a man; several
hours of his birthday remained but David had zero plans.
How did David feel? Like both everything and nothing changed. As his
buzz faded and his sight stabilized, David felt the same as he had for
his entire life: numb, and yet not.