Good Things Also Happen — A Novel
Thanks for Taking a look a novel that has taken me 4 years to write and edit. Below is an excerpt. I hope you like it!
When he accepted the offer, Dave texted Fréderic the good news. After three hours without a response, he gave in and called the bastard, but he couldn’t even leave a message because Fréderic’s voicemail box was full. The next day Dave rumbled to the Lower East Side, stomped up the steps to the Frenchman’s 6th floor studio, and banged on the door until an upstairs neighbor came down and asked him to stop.
Dave lowered his fist to try the doorknob, which turned further than he expected it to. He tore into the studio, throwing off the sheets inside Fréderic’s zero-gravity sleeping chamber, pulling down the chocolate-colored curtains, and sliding the hangers to the far ends of his closet.
“And then he punched the mirror,” Bob continues.
When he punched the mirror, it gashed his hand. He wrapped it with one of Fréderic’s white button-downs and then sprinted on his recently-replaced hips to the NYU Hospital’s Emergency Room. As soon as he was stitched up, while still on painkillers, he called Marine, Fréderic’s sister, and she hadn’t heard from him either, not since early May. She had been worried because he never disappeared for longer than a few months, and Dave’s report that her brother’s apartment was uninhabited jolted her into calling anyone who might have leads.
“So at like 11pm last night I received a call from Marine, but I had to call her back because Dave had rung me 30 seconds earlier from the hospital, right after he’d gotten off the phone with her,” Bob’s voice transfers through cable wires. “Both were frenzied, which was strange because I had never seen either of them that way.”
After getting off the phone with her, it was too late for Bob to make any calls of his own, so he went to bed and phoned me first thing when he woke up.
“I’m coming over in 30 minutes,” he says before hanging up.
* * *
I look at the clock and think about what it would be like to wake up at 11am on a weekday, like Bob apparently just did. Paternity leave isn’t the respite its detractors paint it as.
Cal is finally asleep, so I start scrubbing the dishes while considering what an outlier it is that Bob and I are not among the billions of people oblivious to Fréderic’s disappearance — that the bird had set up nests in our windows.
It started in the summer of 2009. Bob played squash at the Jeu de Paume club on rue Lauriston, the same place where Fréderic sewed court tennis balls. They’d both graduated from college in the spring. Bob was the only person from his Yale class who ended up in Paris and was excited to create a social life from “less than nothing” — he didn’t even speak the language.
Fréderic grew up in Paris and knew plenty of people, but he liked Bob because his other friends had what might be termed “real jobs.” Bob taught English for a few hours a week. Mostly, though, he was swinging a squash racket and typing up his first book. Fréderic, who sewed court tennis balls and tutored SATs from time to time, took comfort in there being someone similarly detached from institutions, skating on family money.
If he’d fully explained his situation to his other friends in Paris, the ones he grew up with, not even the most French among them would’ve judged. But he didn’t like to talk about it. All he wanted was to splash around in insignificance and to avoid questions that were overly personal.
The result was that his French friends sideways glanced at a guy who’d obtained a Harvard diploma but wasn’t doing anything with it, and Bob and Fréderic went to bed after sunrise for two full ellipses, mostly alongside tourists and ex-pats.
A carousel of under-25s spun their ways into Fréderic’s Eiffel Tower-viewing liquor cabinet. Bob would meet and invite them over in droves of 20 or 30, and Fréderic would provide the guest list to his doorman.
At these soirées, Bob partied joyously whereas Fréderic mostly just drank like there was a trophy for first place. Bob’s favorite spot to meet people was the entrance to the Louvre, switching to the tables outside the Pantheon when his French improved. Fréderic liaised considerably less than Bob did. He found it vaguely entertaining listening to Bob’s tales but mostly depressing when he tried it for himself.
After two years of baguettes they both moved to New York. Fréderic had become tired of Europe and had an idea for a business. Bob had been accepted into NYU’s MFA program.
I first came across Fréderic almost exactly a year ago, in January of 2015, just five months before his last sighting. At the time, both of us were 28. I’d recently finished my PhD and had started as an associate professor at NYU’s anti-aging lab. We hit it off because it turned out we were both interested in aging. My life’s ambition was and still is to slow down chromosome deterioration — something that if done successfully will decelerate the aging process.
‘Decelerate aging’ was the term I used when telling him about it, but he referred to it as ‘prolonging youth’. He was obsessed with youth. More so, he was terrified of getting older. The central question in the first comedy act of his that I attended was: “Why do adults agree to a society that’s constructed such that fun and excitement is so frontloaded?”
His obsession with youth went way beyond comedy. When he moved to New York after partying in France for two years, he started Recess, a company that employed a mix of hypnosis and play, guiding people into a meditative state in which they once again inhabited their childhood minds. His goal was for them to once again inhabit their childhood bodies, which he actually believed was possible.
I mostly hung out with Bob through the Frenchman, but over the last few months Bob and I have set our own plans, usually after Recess. I’ve been going twice a month, and Fréderic had appointed Bob ‘interim CEO’ when he started behaving even more strangely than usual, about a month before his disappearance.
I’m fonder of Bob now than I was when I first met him, probably because I understand him better. For Bob, no matter what age his body insists he is, he’ll always be 18, adhering resolutely to the code of behavior he’d picked up as an athlete at his all-boys prep school. The first time we all hung out, Fréderic noted, “The difference between Bob and I is that he strives to be 18 and I want to be 8.”
* * *
I turn my head as the doorknob rotates and the wooden plank traces its circumference inward.
“He still asleep?” Bob whispers.
“Yeah,” I whisper back.
“Can I see him?”
We walk softly to Cal’s room. He’s in his crib wearing a white onesie with thin navy stripes. The hairs in my nose do not detect a dirty diaper.
“Ahoy!” Bob mouths.
“Caitlyn wants him to have style from the beginning. Thinks if he gets a sense for it early he’ll never lose it.”
“Like a foreign language?”
Leaving the room, I make sure the baby monitor is on. It’s always on, but I check to make sure the batteries haven’t run out or something.
Back at the breakfast table, Bob takes a seat and half-whispers, “How old is he?”
“Takes after his mother thank God.”
“Yes thank God.”
“It could’ve been catastrophic.”
“OK easy now.”
“How’ve you been Tom? You look like hell.”
“That’s how I’ve been. How about you?”
“The same. Five more rejections for Colorblind.”
“Good things also happen,” I say.
“Outliers exist,” he agrees.
I get up from the table, make my way to the kitchen, and pour two cups of coffee. Caitlyn’s parents got us a high end Dutch coffee maker called The Moccamaster when Cal was born because they knew we’d need it.
I return to the dining room and set the cups down. Bob eyes his.
“I refuse to drink from a Princeton mug.”
He switches the arrangement so the cup that says “Coffee” on it is in front of him and the one with an orange-and-black ‘P’ is in front of me. Bob went to Yale. He’s joking though, he doesn’t actually take this stuff seriously. The joke is that there are plenty of people who do, who believe in the labels that proxy exceptionalism. Fréderic calls these people jackasses — at Harvard there were quite a few of them.
“So do you have any ideas about where he might be?” I pick up my mug and taste the heat.
“No idea. His sister called the police this morning.”
We consider the last time we saw him. It was in late April, and we weren’t sure if he was serious when he told us he’d been dating a high-school aged girl. A week or two later, he left a box full of notebooks in front of my door because he was eliminating evidence of their interactions. He left them with me instead of with Bob because I hadn’t known him as long and would be less likely to be brought in for questioning if it came to that.
“But why didn’t he burn them? Or throw them in a dumpster?” I ask.
“Maybe he wants them back after it all blows over,” Bob scratches his cheek.
“When the cops ask you what you know, will you tell them about this?”
Bob rubs his head. It’s always risky to lie to the police, but nobody knows we know except Fréderic, and there’s no benefit to the police knowing. Fréderic is better off if he’s assumed missing or if the police track him down with incomplete information than if he’s found with the police knowing everything. Beyond that, admitting knowledge would be admitting to having not previously alerted authorities, and neither of us wants to hire a lawyer.
We can’t tell Marine or Dave either, we deduce, because the more who know, the more likely things are to leak.
“We’re the only ones who might find him,” I say after a long silence.
“Yeah, it has to have something to do with her. Have you looked at the notebooks?”
“He told me not to.”
* * *
The more we talk, the clearer it becomes that we’ll need to do our own investigation independent of the police. My job will be to read through his journals and to array the excavations in an intuitive way, and Bob will do field work, adding color to Fréderic’s backstory via personal anecdotes and by collecting notes from relevant parties.
I agree to do my part because Fréderic and Bob are my friends, and I have the time and am in a unique position to be helpful. Fréderic might show up on his own a month from now, but the $200 million buyout offer, from which he would receive 50 percent, might no longer be on the table.
Also, it’s hard to think about, and I’d rather not, but maybe something really terrible happened. If we find out what it was, at least there will be fewer unanswered questions.
Beyond all of this, there’s real self-interest. I feel like there’s something to be discovered, and, if I find it, I will understand life’s essence more thoroughly. I know that sounds cheesy, but Fréderic is the most unique individual I’ve ever met, chasing extremes and replete with contradictions. He’s charismatic, yet generally lonely. He’s a successful businessman, yet derives no glory from it. He scorns ambition, yet creating a company with the aim of helping people grow younger is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever heard of.
What intrigues me most, though, is his removed manner. Had he dug all the way to his humanity’s core and uncovered something nobody else knew about, or is he just someone who wears a serious expression? Did his brain have so much capacity that it was impossible for another human to fully engage him, or was he so unhinged that it required 95 percent of his energy to appear sane? Even if I don’t find him, a journey inside his mind is sure to yield more insight into what it is that lies at the darkest depths of his individualism.
* * *
A sound comes from the baby monitor. He’s crying again.
“Want to learn how to change a diaper?”
“Ha! No I’ve got to go. I’m meeting Alex downtown for lunch.”
“OK, say hi to him for me.“
Bob gets up and opens the door to the hall. We shake hands, and then I jog to the bedroom. It was a Number Two.
I change the diaper and read out loud from The Little Prince, making sure my little prince’s eyes are closed for three full minutes before tiptoeing to the closet, picking up the dusty brown box in the back, and cutting the Duct Tape while sitting on the living room couch.
Eight months on, the pages turn like summer leaves — neither as spry as spring leaves nor as fragile as fall ones. The air that arises when flipping through smells like moths and sounds like low tide.
I start with the final entry, and then the second to last one, continuing all the way to April 4, a month before his disappearance, in case there’s a sentence directly stating where he planned on going. It becomes obvious that there won’t be an easy solution, I’ll have to ‘piece together’, as I’ve heard it termed on TV, the story.
This brings me to my first major investigatorial decision: to determine the scope. It will be best to focus on Fréderic and Kim’s relations and on the arc of Fréderic’s youth obsession because these are the only areas where my work will add value, as police investigators have access to everything else. I will read all five years of entries, even though Kim was only there for the final six months of it, to, if necessary, contextualize his actions.
It’s also important to determine how to structure the investigation. I’m sure professionals have rigid guidelines, but this is an unofficial inquiry, and my goal is simply to display events as clearly as possible. It’s to repackage Fréderic’s words so that they read smoothly while avoiding over-extrapolation or omitting important details.
With this in mind, I’ve landed on a four-step process:
Read through the journal entries, marking relevant passages.
Reproduce important scenes in as close to his words as is possible in a third-person re-telling.
Add context where necessary.
Delete superfluous text.
What follows is the result of this process. It reads like a novel, but it’s not a story just for a story’s sake. The intent is to enter so far into his reality that guessing his current whereabouts becomes less blind.