Jack Smith learned he was a cheater when he read it on his Google alerts. “JACK SMITH: CHEATER,” it read. It was the first Jack Smith had heard of his alleged affair, but Jack Smith was certainly not the first to hear it. He had four missed calls on his phone, another incoming, and it was barely six.
“Did you see—”
“Is it true?”
A grainy photo and a grainer close-up accompanied a full testimonial from the lady in question. Her face was blurred. She had asked to remain anonymous.
“Call me in a couple hours and we’ll figure out what to do.”
Jack promised to call, hung up, and scrolled down. Apparently he had slept with her two weeks ago. June 12. He had met her in a bar. B&W. He had been very drunk. “Slurring,” even. He had been very forward and did not mention his wife. “I don’t remember a ring.”
Hannah. Her name was Hannah. And she hated being referred to as his wife. Hannah, who wore men’s clothes and refused to switch to DSL for over a year, who didn’t even want a television in the house. Hannah wouldn’t read this. Hannah was above this. Hannah had a fucking tomato garden for God’s sake. Hannah was calling.
“Jack, tell me this isn’t true.”
“Honey, you can’t be—”
“—don’t patronize me. I’m just asking—”
“—I’m not. And it’s not. I—”
“—because Megan called this morning and—”
“—what the hell would your sister know?”
There was heavy breathing on the other side. Jack could see her there, biting the skin off her pinkie nail, wearing her glasses, his slippers.
“Look, I’m sorry about this. But it’s not—don’t even read the—”
“Of course I’m going to—after last time—how…”
Her voice was weak, warbled, about to rupture.
“…how did she know all of that, that stuff about you?”
“The Internet. Honey, I—”
She sighed. He stopped.
“Sam’s up. One second, sweetie, I’m on the phone with—yes, I’ll be in there in a second, I—Jack? Jack, I have to go. Our son is hungry. You’re back on Monday?”
“Yeah. There might be reshoots, but I’m definitely, please don’t-—”
“—I’m coming. Okay. I have to go.”
“I love y—”
She hung up.
It was true. She was smart, this woman—the “other woman”—or whoever had commissioned the story. They had fact-checked. Most of the hard details could be confirmed and thus found online: “He ordered whiskey-cokes all night, his favorite…and I said I liked his shirt—blue, striped—and he said he liked mine too but would like it better if…his hotel was right around the corner, though we took the…” And everything else, the “personal details” she didn’t want “to go into” but rather dove into headfirst, would require him to discuss his sexual predilections or at least drop his pants to contest.
Jack felt uneasy but Hannah would get over it. She had rage wound into every one of her brown curls but it never lasted long. After not getting into grad school Hannah smashed her camera on their tiled floor and then spent the next three hours cradling the pieces, sobbing. Jack bought her a new one for their second anniversary.
The front desk called. His car was here. Did he want to go out the back?
JACK TRIED TO REMEMBER JUNE 12 AS the crew fixed a harness to the X-suit. He had been at the bar, sure, but he must have called home. Maybe it had been too late. They pulled tighter, pinching
“Do we want to sue?”
“Do. We. Want. To sue?” Mark Branson, ‘publicist-to-Jack Smith-yes-that-Jack Smith,’ wanted to know. He was spinning something furious on his phone, all mouth and thumbs.
“Want to sue. Libel.”
“In any case you need to release a statement. Post on the site. Tweet something. You’re trending, you know. So is Agent X.”
“Nevermind. I’ll do it.”
Yellow goggles and a scarred skin cap were pulled over Jack’s head. His cheeks were stretched and hair tugged and harness drawn tighter as the crew put on his face. He was halfway Agent X when his phone vibrated. Another email from Hannah.
They had talked two more times the day before and she had reluctantly agreed to believe him “for the time being” but she was making use of her once-begrudged fast connection to forward him select new headlines. “Jack Smith’s Other Woman.” “Jack Smith’s Wife, ‘Furious.’” There was an online poll: “Did Jack Smith Do It?” (45 percent thought he did; 39 percent thought he didn’t; 16 percent couldn’t decide.) Another read: “Jack Smith Sleeps with Hooker,” though that was before they identified the woman as Leslie Ackerly, USC senior, communications major. Jack had never seen her before, but that hardly mattered. Hannah’s newest email contained a condensed profile.
Jack pressed delete as a brown-haired production assistant buckled his boots and adjusted his pants. His phone buzzed again. He didn’t check it but it buzzed again, and again. Hannah was calling.
“I checked our statement. You were there. At that—”
“—for work. Have you been talking to Megan? Honestly, I—”
“Jack. There was a photographer here this morning. In Thetford. In our backyard.” Jack wedged the phone between his shoulder pad and capped head as the girl put on his gloves and the director yelled for him.
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. But I thought we—hold on!—Hannah, I have to—”
“—Jack, you said work would never—
“—Give me one minute! Hannah—”
“And after last time…” She exhaled.
“I’ll be home in four days.” He ignored her. “Give Sam a kiss for me.”
Three years earlier, when Hannah was almost due and Jack had just gotten home from his last movie, she found a napkin with a number in his coat pocket. Hannah had been unpacking his bags. She liked putting his things back next to hers. Jack was in the shower, and she waddled down to the kitchen phone and dialed and listened to a woman’s voicemail recording as she smoothed the napkin’s warped corners on the table. Jack had not done it. He had not even seen the napkin. (“People just do things like that. To me. It doesn’t mean I do anything to them.”) And, practically speaking, he argued, if he had called the number it would not still be in his pocket. Sam kicked and Hannah relented. (“You never were that good at acting, I suppose.”) Jack, as he’d promised at every interview and press conference during that last year, stayed in Vermont once Sam was born. “Family comes first.”
They pulled him up and he hung there, limp, suspended, waiting to be called
“Mark. Mark!” Mark came over and looked up at his dangling client, hollering for him. “We’re not suing. Hannah and Sam—”
“Ok-ay.” Mark said in the sing-song way that meant he disagreed. “Makes you look guil-ty. Are you sure?”
A camera swung on Jack’s right and they pulled his wires even higher.
“I’m sure. There was a photographer, Mark. In Thetford. In my backyard.”
The director called action and Jack began speaking to the green wall behind him. They would add in the details later.
TWO DAYS PASSED AND HE—“JACK Smith”—Mark Branson—had still had not released anything. Jack checked his phone frequently. It never left his hand unless he was in front of the camera. Hannah had not answered any of his calls. They had not talked all day. No emails, either. But 2,012 people had tweeted @TheREALJackSmith.
The newest one was from LucyFur666, who had a Saint Bernard in a red-horned headband as her picture and wrote: “You deserve to die @theREALJackSmith!” Seventeen people marked this as a “favorite.”
“I cant believe you @TheREALJackSmith,” said the person below, who apparently could not spell but added the hashtags #cheater #scum in case her tone was unclear.
But at least there were the 274 people who retweeted HardyBoy69: “@TheREALJackSmith, P.I.M.P.”
It was late, but Jack could not sleep. The night before, Hannah called at three in the morning. They hadn’t talked for long and about nothing in particular, but the point was that he answered and had been in bed, asleep, alone.
Jack slid his finger back and forth over his phone, locking and unlocking it from the edge of his bed. “How could you @theREALJackSmith?? Y not me?? #jealous.”
When Hannah was happy she liked saying Jack only asked her out because he knew she’d say no. And that he fell in love with her because she was the only one who didn’t already return the sentiment. But she would say all this with her winking grin, the same one she sported when she took Jack’s first headshots and said, “You’re better when you don’t speak.”
Another one popped up: “UR still my hero @TheREALJackSmith! Cant w8 4 Agent X. RT me please!” RT meant re-tweet, but Jack did not. He rarely used the account. TheREALJackSmith’s last message was from a week before. “New pics of Agent X suit… dont think im ever gonna take this off. #AgentX #Spring2013.” Mark had sent this. Over six hundred people had re-tweeted it. Jack had taken off his suit.
He walked to the window and dialed again. At home Jack could see the entire night sky. He had Hannah and Sam and a clear shot at the heavens. Here he had neon clouds and the twinkling of the US Bank Tower and counted among the only stars people wanted to look at.
“Hello?” Jack thought he heard someone pick up.
“Stop calling. She’s hysterical, naturally, and rightfully so, I should—”
“Megan? Can you please put—”
“You’re not suing? You might as well have just confessed. Didn’t even talk to her about it, I mean, this is, you are—”
She gave Jack a few names (#scum, #clichedbastard) before he cut her off.
“Megan, I need you to put Hannah on the phone.”
There was clattering on the other end. “No, hannah. We agreed—you said—i’m not—fine.”
There was more clattering and then silence as Hannah picked up.
“Do you remember when Sam was born?”
She was stuffed-up, but, still, her voice was different. Softer, more removed.
“Of course.” Jack’s voice went in and out the way men’s do when they try to whisper with emotion. “Happiest day of—”
“You said I looked ‘beautiful’—”
“I looked like a cow but that’s not the point.” She took a deep breath. “And you said, ‘This is what it’s all about.’ Do you remember?”
In truth, Jack did not remember. But he also remembered that day being warm and glowing with sunlight when all the pictures showed it overcast and gray.
“I do, and—”
“—and you and me. We just watched him. Remember?”
“I know. You two—”
“I need you to stay there.”
She said this quickly and then went silent.
“What? You can’t—Can I at least see your face? Can I talk to Sam?”
She sniffed slowly, considered it, and then said she couldn’t as her voice shattered. Jack sat down and raked his fingers across his scalp.
Weeks, she said. Longer, maybe. As much time as it took, really. There was a long pause.
“He’s playing with your action figure, Jack,” she said, and laughed. “He thinks you’re a superhero.”
“Thank god he can’t read yet.”
JACK GRABBED ANOTHER DRINK AND walked around the room, ignoring shouts for “Agent X!” and pretending to look for someone. No one really wanted to talk to him anyway. He was there to talk around and about and to pull in for pictures. Jack was not even sure quite where he was. Some restaurant with leather booths and dim lighting. Near palm trees and pavement and green hills staked with signposts.
Mark’s arm shot out from a booth and dragged Jack down beside him.
“Jack, look at me—how are you, Arnie. Sit here with us, I know, I know, we’re feeling pretty good about this one, hold on can you give me a sec? And another whiskey-coke here, please. For Jack. Jack? Jack, I’m talking to you.”
Jack turned back around reluctantly.
“Are you drunk? Good. Anyway, look, this is horrible. Terrible. No way of getting around that—thank you, dear—your wife, family, awful, I can imagine. But. But—hear me out. Listen, do you want some good news or do you want to pout?”
“You were most searched name this week. Online. The third, at least. For people. The Agent X site got over twenty thousand new hits.”
Jack took a drink to busy his fist. There were cameras around. Mark answered a call.
“I’m just saying, when life—hi, hi, yes I’m here. Give me a second, Jack, will you?”
Jack said to take several or at least he meant to as he sank into the cushioning. He had stayed an extra week. They had finally finished that day—at least they hoped. (It still had to go through editing.)
It had been a week and Hannah still would not talk to him. Or let Sam even. She had stopped picking up her phone and sent only one email that said she had checked their statement again and saw he had bought a plane ticket back but could he “please, not.” She wasn’t interested in grand gestures. Like coming home.
“Hannah” she had signed it. Just
“I believe you @theREALJackSmith,” a new tweet read. Angela88. “Your wife is beautiful.”
Jack wiped his sweaty thumb over the message, leaving a translucent film on the screen.
“You should retweet that. The last one.”
Mark had his phone against his shoulder and his head over Jack’s. He called over a waitress and ordered two more drinks.
Jack pressed retweet and locked his phone. Below the date and time was a picture of Sam on his second birthday, five months earlier. He was on Jack’s lap, red-faced and crying and clutching his shirt. Jack was laughing. He and Hannah had put trick candles on the cake and it had not gone over well.
The production assistant who put on his shoes every day had come up beside him. She had curled her brown hair and wore a silver dress and seemed much taller now that she was in heels and not bent over his feet.
“Thanks. My son. Sam.”
She said Sam looked like Jack and Jack said Sam looked like his mother and she said, smiling, that he’d done a good job that day. Jack thanked her again and she said something else about the shoot, or something the director had said about the shoot. About reshoots, maybe.
“It’s loud in here.”
“Wha?” He was slurring a bit. She leaned into his ear.
“I said, ‘It’s loud in here.’”
It was pretty loud. And everything was always clearer from the outside.
JACK WENT TO THE BATHROOM AS THE girl—“Laura,” she told him in the cab—took her coat off and sat on his bed. He didn’t know quite what to do with her in his room, what he should or wanted to do with her, why he had done what he did already. He tried calling Hannah.
“Jesus Christ, pick up.”
He and Laura hadn’t been outside for more than a minute before they were driving back to the hotel, taking the back entrance then up in the elevator where they had one swift and drunken kiss before reaching his floor. Jack felt like he was being pulled along rather than doing any of it, like any action of he did or would undertake being swept into some larger momentum. The kiss itself had felt like some considered maneuver she aped from TV.
Hannah didn’t answer, and Jack walked back in the room and directly to complimentary basket he’d never opened. “Want some?” he said, not looking at her as he twisted the cork off with a suctioned pop. Jack poured champagne into plastic cups without listening for her answer.
“Is this what you do for all your girls?” she said, smirking as she sipped her room temperature froth. It was a stupid line Jack found irritating. “Is this what you did with that girl,” she pressed. “Leslie?”
“No,” Jack said blandly, not bothering to deny it. He really hadn’t slept with her—Leslie—but he knew it didn’t matter. There were too many words out there to make his worth much now. He sat next to Laura and they drank in silence for a second before she leaned in.
“Wait, wait,” Jack said, taking her cup as if he was scared of spilling. He walked to the desk and downed the last swallow before picking up his phone. “I have to take this,” Jack said, walking out the door and into the hall. No one was calling him but he had two new text messages.
[Mark: “Where r u??”]
And two minutes after that:
[Mark: Srsly where r u we have to take pictures.”]
Jack checked his email and refreshed his inbox three times before calling Hannah again. It had been two weeks but it was as if the anxiety of waiting for her response had only grown as he came to know the response was never coming. It was ringing. Jack figured it must have been worse with snail mail—still ringing—before text and Twitter and cell phones. Or better, maybe, Jack couldn’t decide. “This voicemail service has not been set up yet.”
Jack hung up and walked back in the room, where Laura had taken off her dress but not her heels and was kneeling in the center of the bed with her hair pushed to one shoulder. Jack couldn’t imagine she normally acted this way, but he’d been around long enough to know there was something about the presence of a “movie-star” that made everyone an exhibitionist, gave them the confidence—or the affectation of confidence, if there’s a difference—to perform. So they fucked, loudly and clumsily, changing positions every few minutes like they were playing musical chairs.
Jack used to hate calling it that. Fucking. Hannah had used it the first time they’d had sex, which was the first night they’d met. As she was buttoning up her shirt afterward she said, “Well, now that we’ve fucked I doubt I’ll see you again. Okay, bye.” She left before he could respond, so he just opened his mouth and left it there. When he tracked down her dorm room the next day she opened the door with a grin, pleased more with herself than his arrival, but he asked her out anyway.
“Zip me?” Laura said as she finger-combed her hair into place.
“Okay. I, uh, don’t mean to, uh—” Jack fumbled over the zipper.
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”
After dessert and a bottle of wine the next night Hannah sort of apologized for that first night, her dramatic departure, and Jack remarked, half-joking, that “girls don’t talk that way.” She slapped him. After that she’d called it “fucking” exclusively, imbuing the term with a sharp sentimentality so that when she said it on their wedding night it meant something more than the physical act—it was a winking tribute to the frank and unfussy honesty of their love.