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Chapter no 31

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Not long after New Year’s 2002, Dov called Sadie with two pieces of news:

(1) he was, at long last, getting divorced, and (2) he was getting married in Tiburon to a former student, a young woman a few classes behind Sadie at MIT.

“I don’t know if you’ll want to come, but I’m inviting you, Sammy, and Marx to the wedding,” Dov said. “I didn’t want you to get the invitation without us having spoken. It would mean a lot to me if you were there.”

On the approximately nine-hour road trip to Tiburon, Sam, Sadie, and Marx took turns driving. The mood was celebratory, relaxed: Mapleworld was a success, and Sadie and Marx were in love, though they were still keeping this a secret from Sam.

“Were you mad when he told you he was getting divorced?” Sam asked.

“Mad?” Sadie said. “I was terrified he was going to ask me to get back with him.”

“He’s such an asshole,” Marx said. From the back seat, he reached over the front seat to squeeze Sadie’s hand.

“Hey,” Sam said. “You guys are seeing each other, right?” This was said casually, as if Sam was barely interested in the answer: Hey, should we stop for food? Or Hey, you mind if I turn on the radio? He was the one driving the car at the time, and they were about halfway to Tiburon, on the high elevation of the Pacific Coast Highway, five miles south of San Simeon.

Marx and Sadie had been discreet at the office, and they had had no reason to believe that Sam knew. For several months, Sadie had wanted to

tell Sam, but it had been Marx who had resisted. “He’ll take it harder than you think,” Marx had said.

“I don’t think he’ll take it that badly. Sam and I have never dated or been lovers or any of that. And these days, I would describe us as colleagues, more than friends. You’re better friends with him than I am,” Sadie said. “Trust me, the lying is worse.”

“We’re not lying. We just haven’t told him yet,” Marx said. “So, let’s tell him.”

“Maybe we should pull a Dov. Let’s send him an invitation to the wedding,” Marx said.

“Dov did actually tell me first,” Sadie said, smiling. “And you and I aren’t getting married.”

“Why not?”

“Maybe I don’t believe in marriage,” Sadie said.

“There’s no believe, Sadie. It’s not like God, Santa Claus, or whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. It’s a civic ceremony, with a piece of paper. It’s a party, with your friends—”

“Our friends who you refuse to tell.” “Only Sam.”

“And everyone who knows Sam. And that’s almost everyone we know. You’d rather marry me than have to tell Sam? Am I understanding you correctly?”

“I don’t see the issues as entirely related,” Marx said.

The conversation was a roundelay of inaction that they dutifully repeated every couple of months. Sadie found the whole thing out of character for Marx—as a person, he was remarkably transparent. He was honest. He loved the things he loved, and he made no secret of what those things were. And in the end, she attributed Marx’s inertia to a touching, if naive, devotion to Sam. She, too, used to feel such devotion, before she’d seen Sam for who he really was.

By the time of Dov’s wedding, they had been together almost an entire year. Marx still had the bungalow he’d shared with Zoe, but he had

effectively moved into Clownerina. Sadie and Marx were even thinking of buying a house together.

“It’s fine, if you’re seeing each other,” Sam said. “I’m not going to lose my mind if that’s what you both are worried about. I’m not going to drive this car off the highway into the Pacific.” He swerved the car a little, as a joke. “But I would like to know. I mean, it’s obvious. I know you both, so it’s obvious. And it’s honestly rather insulting that you haven’t told me.”

“We are seeing each other,” Sadie said.

“I love her,” Marx added. “I love you,” he said to Sadie. “I love you, too,” Sadie said.

Sam nodded. “Good. That’s what I thought. Mazel. Do you guys want to go see the Hearst Castle? We’re about to pass it and I’ve never been.”

Sam was quiet on the tour of La Cuesta Encantada, the most quixotic, stately pleasure dome in California, land of the quixotic, stately pleasure domes. Sadie had trained herself not to cater to Sam’s moods, not to feel too much for him, but nonetheless, she could sense his agitation.

When the tour was over, Sadie told Marx that she wanted to speak to Sam alone, so they went out to a half-moon-shaped patio that faced the Pacific. It was two o’clock and the sun, reflecting against the water, was blinding. Even with sunglasses on, it was difficult for Sadie to see Sam.

“I thought this place was so beautiful when I was nine, but now it seems ridiculous,” Sadie said, mainly to fill the silence.

“Why? Hearst had the money, so he built himself exactly the world he wanted. There were zebras and swimming pools and bougainvillea and picnics, and no one ever died. How is it different than what we do?”

“Are you okay?” she asked. “Why wouldn’t I be?” Sam said. “I don’t know,” she said.

“I might have loved you once,” Sam said. “And I’ll always care for you in my way, but we wouldn’t work together. I’ve known that for years.”

“Yes,” she agreed.

“If you and I were going to be a couple, one of us would have done something about it by now, don’t you think?”

“Yes.”

“It’s strange when your two closest colleagues keep a secret like that, though,” Sam said. “It’s arrogant of you both to assume I would care so much.”

“I think,” Sadie said, “Marx was scared that you would take it badly. And we didn’t know if it was serious at first, so we didn’t want to upset you if it wasn’t serious.”

“But now you know it’s serious?”

“The way you say ‘serious,’ it sounds like a disease.” “ ‘Serious’ was your word.”

“Your tone, then.”

“But now you know it’s serious?” Sam repeated. “Yes, now we know.”

Sadie studied Sam. The sun had changed angles in the time they’d been standing there, and she could see him again. He was twenty-seven and he had a mustache, but whenever she allowed herself to think of him as the kid from the hospital, her heart could not help but soften for him. It was easy to dislike the man; it was harder to dislike the little boy who existed just below the surface of the man. Though his voice was cool and disinterested as they spoke, his brow was lightly furrowed. His mouth was set in a determined way, as if he had been asked to take a bitter medicine but was determined not to complain. His expression reminded her of a time when he’d recently had surgery, and he hadn’t realized that she had come into his hospital room yet. He was clearly in a lot of pain—his eyes were unblinking, and his jaw was slack, and he was panting softly, and he looked feral. For a second, she didn’t recognize her friend. The face she knew, the face she thought of as Sam, was nowhere. And then he saw her, and he smiled, and he was Sam again, as if he had put on a mask. “You’re here!” he had said.

“I must say,” Sam said, “I’m not surprised that he would be into you. He’s always had a thing for you. He asked me about it that first summer we were making Ichigo. I told him that you would never be into someone like him. So maybe, if anything, I’m surprised that I was wrong.”

“Why wouldn’t I be into him?” She knew she shouldn’t ask this question.

“Because he’s boring.” Sam shrugged, as if Marx’s banality was an indisputable fact. “That’s why he’s always dating someone new. He gets bored with people, but it’s not about them, it’s because he’s boring.”

“You’re an incredible asshole,” Sadie said. “Marx loves you. Can’t you ever just be nice?”

“It’s not cruel to state a fact.”

“It isn’t a fact. And sometimes, it is cruel to state a fact.”

“When we took Heroes for Zeroes at Harvard, you know what his favorite part of The Iliad was?”

“It’s not something we’ve ever discussed,” Sadie said, trying to contain her rising irritation.

“The end, which is incredibly boring. ‘Thus blah blah blah they buried Hector blah blah blah the tamer of horses blah blah blah.’ Hector is boring. He’s not Achilles. Marx is boring like Hector, so he ate that shit up.”

Marx came onto the patio. “What’s everyone talking about?” “The end of The Iliad.”

“That’s the best part,” Marx said. “Why is it the best part?” Sadie asked.

“Because it’s perfect,” Marx said. “ ‘Tamer of horses’ is an honest profession. The lines mean that one doesn’t have to be a god or a king for your life to have meaning.”

“Hector is us,” Sadie said. “Hector is us,” Marx repeated.

“Hector is Marx,” Sam said. “Boring,” he coughed. “We should put ‘Tamer of Horses’ on Marx’s business cards.”

They decided to stay the night near San Simeon and drive the rest of the way in the morning. They checked into the first hotel they came across, which was old and un-air-conditioned. The night was uncommonly balmy for the central California coast, and the rooms were airless and stale, even with the windows open.

In the morning, when Sam came down to the car, he had shaved his black curly hair down to a buzz cut. “What happened?” Marx asked. He petted Sam’s shorn head.

“I got hot,” Sam said.

“It looks good,” Marx said. “Right?”

Sadie knew there was probably some message in this for her, but she couldn’t be bothered to decipher it. It made her feel egomaniacal and ungenerous to think this way, but wasn’t there always some game Sam was playing? Wasn’t there always some maze for her to solve? He was an exhausting person. “Sure,” she said. “We should get on the road.”

“It wasn’t an aesthetic choice,” Sam said. He seemed almost embarrassed. “I honestly was hot.”

“Yes,” Sadie said. “Our room was hot as well, though we both woke up with the hair we started with.”

Sadie felt that everything Sam did was an aesthetic choice. Not long after they’d moved to California, he had had his name legally changed from Samson Masur to Sam Mazer. The explanation he gave her: the name Masur had never meant much to him, and Mazer sounded more like the name of a Master Builder of Worlds. In the last year, he had begun asking them to refer to him just by Mazer, like he was Madonna or Prince. “You can still call me Sam in private,” Sam had said to Sadie, “but in public, I’d prefer to go by Mazer. That’s my name now.”

Mazer had extensively promoted the Mapleworld launch. He loved being a showman; he loved declaiming to an audience of rapt fans about the state of games. And, as he was no longer in chronic pain, he was much better at doing these things than when he’d promoted Ichigo. But, as the promotional schedule had stretched on, Sam had started shifting his appearance away from Mayor Mazer’s. He took to wearing denim coveralls with a name pocket patch embroidered MAZER and a white undershirt underneath. He often wore an army green Breton hat. For years he’d tried to conceal his disability; now he was never photographed without a cane. The cane was used for pointing at things, clearing crowds, grand gestures as needed. He had recently gotten braces and had started wearing contact

lenses. For the first time in his life, he was working out with weights, and he became thick with muscle, like a wrestler. He got a tattoo on his right upper arm: umma (in hangul; Korean for mom), accompanied by the round yellow head and pink bow of Ms. Pac-Man. The Mazer character that Sam fashioned would become almost as iconic to gamers as Mayor Mazer, his avatar, was. But Mazer, circa 2002, looked nothing like Sam, circa 1997.

And now his hair was gone, too. Sadie was driving, Marx was sleeping in the passenger seat, and Sam was in the back seat. For a second, she looked in the rearview mirror at Sam. The first time she had met him, she had imagined the circles it would take to draw his glasses, his face, his hair. She had to admit it; she would miss the circles of his hair. He caught her eye for a moment, and then he looked away. A second later, he put on his Breton cap.

Once Sadie and Marx’s personal relationship was out in the open, Sadie and Sam’s working relationship further deteriorated. Perhaps this was to be expected. The conflicts were the same as they’d always been, but they became less civil with each other.

Sadie had little interest in working on or promoting Mapleworld. She had absolutely no interest in being the “face” of Unfair, and she was happy to cede those duties to Sam. What she wanted to do was get back to work on a new game, something that would put Both Sides, Mapleworld, and Ichigo solidly in their rearview mirror.

For his part, Sam enjoyed the process of building out Mapleworld, and he wanted to work on another Ichigo. “We’ve got so many eyes on us right now, Sadie. Imagine what we could do with the resources we have. It’s the perfect time to do a new Ichigo.”

“I don’t want to be making Ichigo until I’m forty, Sam. I’m not like you. I don’t get off on doing the same things over and over again.”

“Why do you always want to cast off our successes? Why does something have to be new for it to interest you? It’s almost pathological.”

“Why are you so afraid to do anything else but the things we’ve already done?”

And so it went.

The game Sadie wanted to make was Master of the Revels. Master of the Revels was a simulation set in the theater world of Elizabethan London, centering on solving the murder of Christopher Marlowe. Sadie had been inspired by a comment Marx had made about how there weren’t ever any good games about theater.

From the moment Sadie described it, Sam detested Master of the Revels. He felt it was pretentious and not likely to be embraced by a mass audience.

Still, Sadie kept insisting that Master of the Revels should be their next game.

“You can’t be serious, Sadie. People hate Shakespeare. People hate history. And the world you’re proposing is so dark. What are you even trying to prove?”

“I don’t want to make bubble gum like Mapleworld forever.” “Mapleworld is not bubble gum. But it’s like you took the experiences

we had on Both Sides, and you want to repeat the worst parts of it,” Sam said. “It’s perverse.”

“That’s a shitty thing to say,” Sadie said. “And is the point of everything we do to reach as broad an audience as possible? Is that the only reason to do anything? I’d like to know.”

“It is, if we’re going to spend millions of dollars on it. Not to mention, the limited time of our very finite lives.”

“Not every game has to be Mapleworld, Sam. Not every game has to appeal to everyone.”

“I’m so bored of having this discussion with you.” “I’m bored of having it with you.”

“You’re pretentious, Sadie.” “You’re a pandering asshole.”

At this point, their conversation was audible to all who worked on the second floor.

“If you’re going to work on this,” Sam said, “you can work on it alone.”

“Fine. I will, then. I was praying you would say that.”

“You can’t work on it alone! I still need to sign off on it as a producer,” Sam said. When they had founded Unfair, Sam, Sadie, and Marx had agreed that every game they made needed to be approved by at least two of them. “You can’t unilaterally decide to work on it.”

“Marx’ll back me.” “I bet he will.”

“He’ll back me because it could be a great game, Sam.”

“He’ll back you because he takes your side in everything. Because he’s

screwing you.”

“Get out of my office.” “No,” Sam said.

Sadie physically pushed Sam out the door. “GET OUT!”

“No, let’s go see the Tamer of Horses,” Sam said, “and settle this once and for all.”

Sadie pushed past Sam, and they both went into Marx’s office.

“I assume she’s told you her idea,” Sam said. “Masturbator of the Revels.”

“Screw you,” Sadie said. “Yes,” Marx said.

“Well, I think it stinks,” Sam said. “It’s like a multimillion-dollar version of EmilyBlaster.”

“If this was anyone else’s idea but mine,” Sadie said, “you would talk about it with more respect.”

“I’m refusing to work on it with her. I don’t think we should do this game at all,” Sam said, to Marx. “Every penny we spend on it, we’ll lose. But you’ve got the tiebreaker, so…Not that you’re exactly objective.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Marx said. “Surprise, surprise,” Sam said.

Sam walked out of Marx’s office. He went into his own office and slammed the door.

“It’s settled,” Sadie said. Her face was flushed. “If you agree to it, I’m making Master of the Revels as my next game, and I’m doing it without Sam.” Sadie nodded to herself. “I’m so done with him.”

She, too, left Marx’s office and returned to her own office.

For a second, Marx debated about which of them to follow. He took a right and went toward Sam’s. He knocked on the door.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Marx asked.

“You’re pussy blind,” Sam said. “This is exactly why I told you that you shouldn’t date Sadie back in 1996. It throws the balance of power, or whatever, off.”

“I’m not going to dignify that,” Marx said. “You’re being childish and insulting, Sam. Unfair is my company, too. I wouldn’t say we should do this if I didn’t think it was worth doing. Master of the Revels has intrigued me since the first time Sadie told me about it. The Elizabethan theater world. The murder of Christopher Marlowe. I think these are interesting details and an interesting world could result. Even if two high school kids at a game jam showed up with a demo of the game Sadie described, I’d be tempted. And honestly, I’ve always wanted to make a game about theater.”

Sam shook his head and he sighed. “Marx, don’t you think I know Sadie a little? Master of the Revels is all of her worst instincts. I told her it was like EmilyBlaster, but honestly, it’s Solution.”

“We both loved Solution,” Marx said.

Solution is awesome for a college kid. Solution is awesome if the idea is to piss off your classmates, and if it costs no money.”

Marx pondered Sam’s point. “I don’t think it is like Solution.”

“Sadie wants to make something dark and intellectual so that people will take her seriously. She’s trying to impress people like Dov. She’s trying to win back the people that wrote bad reviews of Both Sides. The best colors of Sadie are not her darkness.”

“I don’t know, Sam. I think all her colors are worth exploring. Professionally speaking. And this game could be great. If you could have

seen the way Sadie looked when she first described it. She was so excited.”

Sam looked at Marx, and for a second, he despised him: You, who could have anyone, why did you have to pick Sadie Green?

Sam could imagine them in bed, in Clownerina. Sadie wakes up, and she turns over to look at Marx, and she says, I’ve had an idea. And she describes the idea for Master of the Revels to Marx—her hands flying through the air the way they do when she is excited, her words rapid-firing. She gets out of bed, and she has to pace around the room, because when Sadie has a great idea, she can’t stay still. Sam couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t been the first to know about one of Sadie’s ideas.

“You know what? It’s fine, Marx,” Sam said. “I don’t care what she does.”

That night, in bed at Sadie’s apartment, Marx asked Sadie if she was certain she wanted to make Master of the Revels, sans Sam.

“Are you saying you don’t think I’m capable?” Sadie was ready for a fight.

“No, of course not,” Marx said.

“Because I was making games without him, long before we started making games together.”

“I know that,” Marx said. “I think the games”—he chose his words carefully—“have a different energy when the two of you work together.”

“We’re barely speaking,” Sadie said. “And when we do speak, it’s not that creative, as you and everyone else at Unfair can plainly hear, and things haven’t been good for us for some time. I don’t see how we can work together. He hates the idea for Master of the Revels, and I love the idea, and I think we’ll honestly kill each other if we work on this. I don’t think we’re breaking up forever. But I do think the two of us need some time apart so that we can like each other again.

“And, maybe it’s more me than him. But I want to do something on my own. Something that is fully mine. Something that no one can attribute, for

better or for worse, to Sam.”

“I understand that, and I support you. Master of the Revels, a game by Sadie Green. Let it be known! But I’m curious about something. I’ve been here the whole time, and I’ve never understood what happened between you and Sam. You two were so tight that Zoe once told me that if I needed to get you to do something, all I had to do was tell you it was for Sam, and vice versa.”

“It’s not one thing,” Sadie said. “For a long time, I thought it was one thing…But it’s everything.”

“But is there one thing?” Marx persisted.

“This will sound crazy. Sam thought it sounded crazy when I told him. You remember when we went to Dov for Ulysses? Sam claimed he didn’t know that Dov had been my teacher and my lover, and I found out that he had known both of those things.”

“How?”

“Dov had signed the CD-ROM you both were playing.”

Sadie went to her desk, and she took out the CD-ROM, and she showed it to Marx. Marx read the inscription. “God, Dov was the worst,” he said.

“I know.”

“Explain it to me. What difference does it make that Sam knew that?” “Well, it means that he cared more about making Ichigo than he did

about my well-being. For many years, I was the reverse—I loved our games, but I cared about Sam more. And for me, this betrayal came to be emblematic of all the other times I felt that Sam had chosen the games and himself over everything.”

“But that’s Sam,” Marx said. “You two aren’t that different. You’re both obsessed with the work.”

“I am different. I moved to California for him. I know there were other reasons, but you and I both essentially moved to California for him.”

“I don’t mean to dig up fossils, but Sam believed he was, in part, moving to California for you. He was worried about you. About your relationship with Dov…”

“We never spoke of that,” Sadie said. “I don’t see how that can even be true.”

“But he and I did,” Marx said. “Often.” Sadie shook her head.

“And Sadie? Not that it necessarily matters, but I’m not certain Sam would have ever seen that Dead Sea CD-ROM. I remember that afternoon very clearly. You were sleeping in the bedroom, and Sam was going through all the games we had to look for graphical references for Ichigo, and he’d worked his way through his pile, so I went over to your bookshelf to get your games. I’m certain I would have been the one to get up and put Dead Sea in the drive, because I was always worried about Sam’s foot, and it would have been easier for me to get up and sit back down. And I know that I didn’t look at the CD, and Sam wouldn’t have had time to either.”

Marx would have liked this to be true, but Sadie knew he was mistaken.

“I know it’s not only that…” Marx continued.

“It isn’t. It’s Ichigo II, and Sam always taking credit, and maybe, as I said before, it isn’t even Sam. I just want something of my own, and I don’t want to negotiate with him. I’m only twenty-six, Marx. I don’t have to work with him on every little thing I do for the rest of my life.”

The phone rang, and Marx answered it. It was their realtor. Sadie’s lease was almost up in Clownerina, and they had put in an offer on a house in Venice, a grayish-purplish, weather-beaten two-story, with clapboard siding, east of Abbot Kinney. The house had been built in the 1920s, like most everything in L.A., and it had a dangerous, banister-less staircase, French doors everywhere, wide plank floors, and a living room with an A- frame that looked like a church. (In fact, the house had been briefly occupied by one of the many cults that pass through Southern California on the road to Enlightenment and Nirvana.) The house was in an appealing, but livable, state of decay. A thirty-foot-tall bougainvillea was in the process of strangling a palm tree out front; the fence that surrounded the property was at a 45-degree angle in places; the roof would need repairs sooner rather than later. The listing had called it a “Boho Dream”—Boho, meaning

“overpriced for the work you’re about to do.” Marx spoke with the realtor, and then he covered the mouthpiece and turned to Sadie.

“She wants to know if we’re willing to come up with our offer,” Marx said.

In the time since she and Marx had been looking, they’d lost out on several houses. California real estate moved briskly. Sadie had accustomed herself to disappointment, and she didn’t get attached to any of the houses anymore. “It’s a great house,” Sadie said. “But I guess there’ll be other houses. It’s up to you.”

“I like this house,” Marx said. “I think this might be our house.”

“Let’s do it, then,” Sadie said. “We’ll come up a little, and we’ll see what happens.”

A few days later, their offer had been accepted.

Two months later, post tenting and lock changing and the endless signing of papers, they moved in.

“Should I carry you over the threshold?” Marx asked.

“We’re not married, so I think I’m good to walk on my own two feet,” Sadie said.

She unlocked the door, and they walked through to the small backyard. It was fall, and two of their three fruit trees were in season: a Fuyu persimmon tree and a guava tree.

“Sadie, do you see this? This is a persimmon tree! This is my favorite fruit.” Marx picked a fat orange persimmon from the tree, and he sat down on the now termite-free wooden deck, and he ate it, juice running down his chin. “Can you believe our luck?” Marx said. “We bought a house with a tree that has my actual favorite fruit.”

Sam used to say that Marx was the most fortunate person he had ever met—he was lucky with lovers, in business, in looks, in life. But the longer Sadie knew Marx, the more she thought Sam hadn’t truly understood the nature of Marx’s good fortune. Marx was fortunate because he saw everything as if it were a fortuitous bounty. It was impossible to know— were persimmons his favorite fruit, or had they just now become his favorite fruit because there they were, growing in his own backyard? He

had certainly never mentioned persimmons before. My God, she thought, he is so easy to love. “Shouldn’t you wash that?” Sadie asked.

“It’s our tree. Nothing’s touched it except my grimy hand,” Marx said. “What about the birds?”

“I don’t fear the birds, Sadie. But you should have one of these.” Marx stood, and he picked another fruit for himself and one for her. He walked over to the hose at the side of the house, and he rinsed the persimmon. He held out the fruit to her. “Eat up, my love. Fuyus only yield every other year.”

Sadie took a bite of the fruit. It was mildly sweet, its flesh somewhere between a peach and a cantaloupe. Maybe it was her favorite fruit, too?

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