Montauk held for them, as it did for most millennial couples post-2004, an undeniably sentimental value. It was where they had gone on their first getaway together, fittingly and more than somewhat cheesily, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which vaguely coincided with what they were calling their anniversary on Andy Warhol’s death day, February 22nd. Clotilde would always remember it for this very reason, as she had run into Troy at the Warhol retrospective at the Whitney on that day, establishing a bond with one another over how everyone at the museum found themselves endlessly clever for choosing to come on this specific day to see the exhibit. It began with a mutual eye roll over one hopelessly over the top gay boy asserting his thorough knowledge of all things gay, fashion and art by telling his friend, “Marc Jacobs has a fantastic Warhol collection.”
Clotilde muttered under her breath, “Really, have you talked to him personally about it?” so that Troy could hear it and laugh. She hadn’t been trying to get his attention, so she told herself. But looking back on that initial encounter, Clotilde had to admit that perhaps she had been the aggressor. Could, in truth, recall taking note of Troy when he was in the ticket line ahead of her. He was on his own and completely at peace with it in a way that one so rarely encounters, most especially in a city like New York, where everybody was willing to settle for anyone’s company, so long as it meant not being alone in the conventional sense of the word. Coming from Imperia on the Italian border of the French Riviera, this was a somewhat shocking trend for Clotilde to adjust to, for even in her remoteness from “mainland” Italy, the saying “meglio solo che male accompagnati” was a staple of her youth, and one that her father, Sergio, would repeat often to her French mother, Chantal–obviously the one who had more of a cultural influence in how Clotilde came to be named Clotilde.
So yes, America–New York–was a jarring change of pace in terms of recalibrating her mentality about aloneness. For people were so ready to spend time with anyone who offered it up so long as it meant showing to all the world (Instagram) that they had someone who would vouch for them, never mind the character of said voucher. While Clotilde had, little by little, learned to allow herself to defer her tempo libero to people she otherwise might not have if she were still back in Imperia to hear her father tout his signature phrase, today, she vowed, she would not do that. She would not text “just anyone” to see if they wanted to accompany her to the museum. And in this way, she found, destiny must have deliberately intertwined her with Troy’s path. They exchanged numbers after viewing the rest of the somewhat, Clotilde had to be frank, lackluster exhibit.
It only took Troy a week and a half to reach out to her to make plans. He later admitted it was a calculated wait, that he had wanted to arrange to meet with her the second they parted ways, but knew somewhere from watching too many Criterion Collection movies how French women operated. Clotilde assured him that she was more Italian than French, despite the deception of her name, and that she would not have written him off for being “too eager” as he suspected she might. Would, in truth, have likely been refreshed by a rare display of honesty in emotions that Americans were, as far as she had witnessed, incapable of.
Regardless of whether his timing was “correct” or not, she accepted his invitation to dinner, and the relationship quickly escalated from that night forward. Escalated all the way to this one-year mark of celebrating Valentine’s Day and their anniversary with the aforementioned trip to Montauk that both parties insisted was in no way influenced by a shared but ashamed love of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (for there was nothing more basic now, in terms of “favorite movies” to trumpet). Clotilde had watched him “casually” make the arrangements for their Airbnb on Old Montauk Highway, where Umbrella Beach offered plenty of opportunity to “unwittingly” recreate moments where Joel and Clementine had walked along it together. Clotilde pretended not to notice and Troy, in truth, likely didn’t notice, what with male sensibilities being what they are.
So off they went, the weekend of Valentine’s Day. What Clotilde failed to account for, as no girl possibly could, is that Troy’s ex-girlfriend, the one that he had only broken up with full-stop as opposed to feigning long distance because she chose going to Zagreb for “an experiment in how to live” over staying with him, showed up at his workplace out of the blue (or black, if you’re David Lynch). Sarah told him that while she wasn’t totally sure that he would still be there, something told her that his tendency toward being an irrevocable creature of habit would allow fate for her to find him still at the same ad agency doing the same mundane graphic design job. “Thanks,” he said with sarcasm. “Is there any other reason you’ve come here to interrupt my work day–aside from a condemnation of my steadfast character?”
Sarah bit her lip. “I made a mistake.”
“And kissed a snake?” he returned haughtily.
“No, asshole. I shouldn’t have left you. I thought what I wanted couldn’t possibly be in New York. That it had to be somewhere…purer. But no. It turns out, Troy, it is here. And it’s you.”
Troy blinked at her as a response. He let a barrage of key memories of his relationship with Sarah wash over him in that instant. He had been very specific in allowing a year to pass since the time of her absconding to Croatia so that it would be fair to whoever he was with next. That it could not be considered a “rebound” from his proverbial one true love. So yes, it had been two years in total since Sarah chose a foreign land as her purpose outweighing a “stifling” (that was what she had called it, with such April Wheeler gall) relationship with Troy. Enough foreign “boyfriends” cured her of that disease, though she would never say this to Troy. Would prefer for him to think that she really and truly couldn’t live without him (and their love) in her life.
As Troy remembered all of his best moments (read: fucks) with Sarah, he had to admit to himself that he had never fully gotten over her. That something about his dynamic with Clotilde was still colored with a certain lack as a result of trying to remake their affair in the image of the one he had with Sarah. He continued to make Sarah squirm with his silence before finally responding, “I need some time to think about this. I’m seeing someone, you know.”
Sarah nodded solemnly. “The thought crossed my mind. But I knew I would regret it the rest of my life if I didn’t ask for a second chance.”
Troy could feel himself getting an erection and needed Sarah to leave. He couldn’t let her know she had this power over him. Therefore he said, “If you could please go, I have a lot to do. I’ll call you sometime this weekend to let you know what I feel once I’ve processed it.”
“Of course. Take all the time you need. I’ll wait. Forever maybe.” With that, she was gone. Troy locked the door after and quickly rubbed one out.
The drive up to Montauk was…strained, to say the least. After picking a fight with Clotilde when she had, in his opinion, taken both too long to get ready and had packed too much in her suitcase so as to force Troy to absorb some of the runoff in his own, he refused to speak with her. Instead, he opted to blast classic rock (this, in the present, meant the likes of Stone Temple Pilots and Red Hot Chili Peppers) so as to avoid having to engage in any form of conversation with her. Naturally, the truth was that he wanted to fight with her. He wanted to test her limits to the brink so as to see if she might miraculously break up with him so that he wouldn’t have to do it himself in order to be with the person who still held the ultimate place within his heart.
But Clotilde was immune to his mood swing. After all, being half-French did make her well-equipped to handle such a thing. She simply let him “have his space” as she read calmly–infuriatingly–in the front seat. When they arrived at the house, it already didn’t bode well that the cleaning people (it was that big of a property, Troy supposed, for the host to require the need for paid help to adequately transform the space into something somewhat immaculate after each guest’s stay) told them they weren’t finished. To come back in about an hour “or so.” With nothing else to do other than go to the lighthouse at the other edge of town (not that it meant driving more than ten minutes), Troy and Clotilde were off again, this time with Clotilde able to draw him out at least slightly enough to stop him from blasting “vintage” Coldplay while they passed sign after sign advertising for “Tick Control” and “Tick Extermination” on the way.
When they parked the car in the lot across from the lighthouse, Troy could already feel what he wanted to say bubbling to the surface with an irrepressible ferocity. Knew that he had to put the kibosh on this thing now or never lest he lose his opportunity to rekindle the still burning torch he held for Sarah.
As they ascended the boulder pathway running the length of the lighthouse’s bottom perimeter, a sinister thought crossed his mind: maybe I could just throw her over. Kill her off. He didn’t. Or, depending on how you look at it, did. For in the next few minutes he was confessing that he could never love her as he did Sarah and that he wanted to conclude their own relationship (even though, of course, he still loved her to some extent in a platonic capacity), effective immediately.
Clotilde subsequently stared at him with eyes that could sear. But rather than addressing anything he had actually just told her, she insisted, “Can we just get through this weekend?” It was as though she couldn’t process his breakup until she had gotten their money’s worth of romance out of Montauk. So it was that they fragilely walked the rest of the length of the unevenly “placed” boulders to get to the other side of the lighthouse, where a thicket bifurcated by a manmade path cautioned, “WARNING Tick Infested Area.” Clotilde didn’t seem to take note of it in any way and Troy didn’t feel inclined to double warn her as she absently ripped out some of the reeds as she passed by them, as though to channel her anger toward something other than him.
As Troy drove back toward the house, Clotilde glared in silence out the window. The same signs for ticks still didn’t appear to register with her in any way, though they soon would. Approximately one week later, as a matter of fact, when a red rash enveloped her left arm. She was asked to go home from the bar in the Meatpacking District where she worked, embarrassed to no end for having been deemed “unclean.” Although she knew Troy was no longer “hers” to burden with such problems, she called him to ask if he might bring her some ointment or salve. She was feeling too delicate to be out in public and just wanted to sit inside and watch mindless programming to further forget. Both that he had broken her heart and that a tick had broken her skin (though she was not totally aware of this latter element).
Even though Troy promised to come by with some sort of treatment, he never did. Sarah had asked him to meet her for dinner and he didn’t want to be late, letting Clotilde’s “little problem” “slip his mind” as he rushed to meet Sarah on the other side of town. The pain of just how easily Troy could compartmentalize her into “the past” was tempered only by the following morning, when, much to Clotilde’s delight, the rash seemed to have faded away entirely.
She went to work and assured her manager she had sought treatment, knowing he would never be the wiser. As time wore on, Clotilde worked diligently to forget all memories of that Montauk trip, executing her own sort of Lacuna Inc. enterprise with an unhealthy combination of denial and alcohol.
It was about eight months later, when she had learned that Troy and Sarah were engaged, that she could no longer ignore the joint pain that had been plaguing her, always exacerbated at work. She had assumed it was the repetitive motions of serving that was causing the problem, and decided to make a doctor’s appointment to be examined so that, at the very least, they could prescribe her with some sort of pain medication. This was yet another way in which she had allowed herself to become Americanized, to her own flabbergasted dismay. But the physical agony was too unbearable not to medicate.
Sure that her physician would tell her something like she had early onset arthritis, a week after the doctor had run some routine tests, he called her back into his office to demand, “Have you been in any contact with an area that would be hospitable for ticks in the past year?”
Try her best to repress it though she might, it only took Clotilde a few seconds to process the source of her malady. “Montauk for Valentine’s Day. What a romantic idea,” Clotilde seethed while performing an almost seizure-like convulsion of revulsion as she did so.
“Well, I’m afraid all signs point to you having Lyme disease.”
Clotilde could not abide this distinct injustice. Had to do something to rebalance the karmic scales as she lived with the immovable remembrance of the indignity Troy had inflicted upon her. In the weeks that followed, a plan to repay him the favor began to germinate in her mind as she deliberately kept the information regarding her condition to herself.
She had been contrived in choosing to remain “friendly” with him after accepting that he had made his choice and it was Sarah. This “pleasantness” had secured her a pity invite to the wedding, though she expected Troy was fully aware that she would never in a million years attend. When she asked him if he had made arrangements for the honeymoon yet, he admitted that he hadn’t. It was here that she saw the opportunity to nudge him in a particular direction. One that led right back to Montauk. So she used her credit card to buy him the most lavish possible accommodations–an oceanfront cottage near Umbrella Beach–so that he couldn’t refuse using the preset dates of the stay for his honeymoon. He was too predictably cheap not to. Thus, she had remanufactured the trajectory of his and Sarah’s life. For it only took a year for Sarah to not only announce publicly that she was pregnant but privately that she also had Lyme disease, and therefore, likely would the baby.
Driving down Old Montauk Highway (she had moved to Montauk at this point, and had become one of the leading tick exterminators in town), she only half-smiled thinking of this news. Somehow Troy had evaded the deserved punishment, and he would inevitably divorce Sarah within five years from the stress of her and the child’s condition (Troy loathed imperfections, especially in women). But maybe, so long as she remained his “friend,” she could insist that he always have his honeymoons in Montauk, until a tick of vengeance at long last struck him. Got right under his skin. Just as he had to Clotilde, and every other woman that fell for his amorous double-(soon to be triple- and beyond) crossings.