Tommy goes to the club by himself, orders one drink at the bar and watches her dance on a stage further away.
He watches her navel, the dip and rise in her lingerie where her hips meet her waist and far below her navel, where the absolute hottest part of her body is hidden. He watches her press her ribs against the pole and arch her back. He wants to press her ribs against a bed, and arch her back, raise that ass while his fingers work.
Tommy slams his empty glass on the bar.
“Another double,” he says to the pretty redhead in the ripped white undershirt. She’s not wearing a bra and her nipples are huge. He stares at them as she refills his glass.
Howls come from the stage and Erica’s nipples pull his focus. He wants to suck on them until she cant take it anymore, until she cries; real, wet, streaming tears of ecstasy all the way down that pretty little face of hers. He wants to see her face up close in every possible shade of pleasure and torment when he finishes inside of her.
He gulps down the drink and leaves.
As Erica walks to her white hatchback she hears clicking heels across the lot, keeping rhythm with her own footsteps. She doesn’t know who’s left inside or outside the club, and even if she screamed no one would hear her. She doesn’t want to look up. She doesn’t want to see who’s feet have stopped moving toward her.
“Hey!” he calls.
She’s close to her car, but between her and the driver’s side are a sturdy pair of midday-blue denim-covered thighs. The zipped bulge in the middle perfectly aligned with the keyhole to her door.
Erica inhales sharply, and tries to channel Bernie’s no-nonsense brass balls.
“Listen,” she looks up to find familiar eyes.
It’s one of the guys from last night. The nicer one, who drove her home but stayed in the car while the other one tried to move on her.
Erica doesn’t soften when she says, “I gotta get home.”
“Hey,” he smiles warm and easy.
Erica feels the nerves at the center of her body begin to ignite. He was god-damn attractive. She shifts her weight, determined not to show any signs that his charm affects her. But she can’t help to notice his blue eyes twinkle in the dim light of the parking lot.
“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You didn’t,” her voice comes out high and nervous. Erica starts over, “You didn’t startle me,” she says flatly.
“Good,” He says, “Because I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to give you a ride home, make sure you got in all right.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got my car tonight,” Erica tells him. “You’re sitting on it.”
“You get a lot of guys waiting out here for you?”
“No actually,” she answers. “No one’s that stupid.”
He looks intensely at her.
“How long you planning on dancing there?” He switches his gaze and tilts his head toward the club. “You gonna show off your tits till they don’t stay up anymore? And then what?”
Erica moves closer to him, stares defiantly into his face.
“What’s it to you?” she asks. “They’re my tits.”
He shuts his eyes, takes a breath and straightens up before opening them again.
“I run a bar,” he tells her. “We serve burgers, fries, beers, and my girls all keep their shirts on. At least as long as they’re on shift, and while I’m around. You want a new job where you don’t have to act like you like being grabbed by fat guys all night?”
“Fat guys eat burgers and drink beers. And guys grab girls everywhere.”
“Yeah well at Freddy’s you don’t have to take it and you get to give it back to them.”
Erica squints at him. “Oh yeah?”
“Oh-oh, yeah,” he nods. His hands are crossed at his waist. “Something tells me you’d just love to give it back.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“I’m always right, doll.”
He’s too confident.
Erica rolls her eyes. “Maybe I’ll check it out,” she tells him. “Right now I want to go home.”
“No problem,” He brings his body off the car. “But why don’t you let me drive you home and tell you about the job? I’ll pick you up tomorrow and bring you back here so you can give notice and get your car. And if they owe you money or give you a hard time I can take care of it.”
Erica stares at him thoughtfully for a long while. She doesn’t move a muscle on her body as she peers at him, trying to decide if he’s for real.
She isn’t worried about him trying anything in the car because the truth is he’s hot as hell and she can practically feel his chest hair on her fingertips as she rips apart his cotton shirt and yanks it from his body. She can all but hear the sound a button or two will make popping from his shirt, falling between their bodies.
If he really wants to give her a job he won’t make a move. If he wants to fuck her they can do that in the car and she can take herself home.
She stares at him longer, waiting for a tell. She looks him right in the eyes, ignoring the temptation to eye his mouth.
“Okay,” he slaps his palms against those durable thighs. “I’m gonna start my truck. You can come along if you want to.”
Erica turns her body with his as he take his first step in the direction he came from.
“What’s your name again?” she asks.
Repetitive chiming stirred Caitlyn from her sleep. She slipped her phone from beneath her pillow to see David returning her call.
It was 3:13AM.
“Hey,” she whispered.
“How could you walk out on me so easily like that?”
“You woke me up by dumping me,” Caitlyn reminded him.
“You were awake before I said anything,” David responded. “If you’d bothered to stay and talk it out I would’ve explained that I thought break would be easier for you. So that you wouldn’t feel so pressured between me and your job.”
“David,” Caitlyn sighed.
“But now,” he continued, “I know the only reason you answered the phone, the only reason you called me four times tonight, was because you left your disk at my house. Because you don’t want to talk to me about our relationship. You just want to get a promotion and be some big shot job hustler in New York.”
“David, hold on,” she tried.
“No!” He cut her off sharply.
Caitlyn realized, given the time and his tone of voice, David had probably been drinking all night.
“What do you want for me?” he roared. “You want me to leave school and move to New York to be with you?”
“I never said that.”
“Then what do you want?” he pressed. “What will it take for you know how much I love you?”
“God, David,” Caitlyn pleaded. “Don’t be so dramatic. Can you email me the files, and we talk more tomorrow?”
“It is tomorrow,” he replied indifferently.
“You don’t even care about me, about how I feel. All you want is that stupid disk. And if I email it to you, you’re just going to forget all about me. You’re not gonna call me. You don’t want to talk.”
“You see,” Caitlyn said. “You’re pressuring me right now.”
“I am,” he concurred. “I’m trying to get you to be honest with me.”
He wanted honest.
“You’re jealous of my job,” she told him.
Caitlyn pushed her way toward the bar, quickly scanning the pink, blue, and khaki bodies around her for Shannon. As she edged her right elbow onto the wooden surface she felt a hand wrap lightly around her arm.
David inched beside her with a shy smile. Caitlyn had forgotten her ex and Shannon shared mutual friends. She raised her brows knowingly, said nothing.
David loudly revealed the obvious over the DJ’s sped up intro to Pour Some Sugar On Me. “I came down for Shannon’s birthday,” he said.
He sounded so stupid.
“Not sure I care,” Caitlyn rolled her eyes.
She ordered a Corona with a shot of tequila and placed twenty dollars on the bar.
“Two vodka-tonics,” David called out to the bartender, piggybacking her order.
They stood next one another awkwardly, chests almost touching as Caitlyn haplessly tried to create space between their bodies.
“You seen Shannon?” David bent his head toward hers.
“No,” Caitlyn answered sharply. She didn’t look at him when she said, “Stop talking to me.”
“Come on,” David tucked two fingers under her elbow.
Caitlyn yanked her arm from him. She turned her head just as a thin brunette with long curls bounced up beside them.
“Hey!” the girl flattened a familiar palm against David’s chest and smiled. “Thanks for getting drinks.”
“You remember Cassandra,” David pulled back from Caitlyn.
“Of course,” she replied, “The gorgeous dancer who was dating your coworker. We met the night before you dumped me.”
Cassandra glanced uncomfortably at David.
“Nice seeing you again,” Caitlyn delivered. She threw back her shot and squeezed the sliced lime tightly between her teeth.
“Please don’t be rude,” David implored her.
“It’s your friend’s birthday right?” Cassandra asked innocently.
“That’s right,” Caitlyn nodded. “I’m sure that’s the reason you think you’re here, except David only wanted a
reaction out of me.”
She guzzled her Corona.
“It’s not like that,” David shook his head.
“Please,” Caitlyn lowered the bottle from her lips. “You can’t convince me. I know all the games and tricks you pull for attention. It’s Cassandra who’s got to learn.”
She looked to the dancer.
“How does it feel to be used just to get under the ex’s skin?”
Cassandra nervously avoided Caitlyn’s eyes. She said nothing.
“Caitlyn, come on,” David insisted.
“You know what,” she set her half-empty beer onto the bar. “Give Shannon my best.”
Caitlyn pushed past Cassandra, allowing two blonds position at the bar.
“Wait!” David called behind her.
Caitlyn ignored him, and continued cruising through the crowd. Outside on 3rd Avenue Shannon was just arriving with a crew of gents in long sleeved Polos and striped Oxford shirts.
“Where you goin?” he held out both arms.
“Hey, Shan,” Caitlyn embraced her friend with a quick kiss on his cheek. “Happy Birthday.”
“Thanks,” he smiled. “Been here long?”
“Not actually,” she told him. “But I’m so sorry, I have to run.”
“Whaaat?” Shannon held onto her waist and spun a half turn. “But all the girls have to get on top of the bar and dance for me. You’re not exempt.”
He’d obviously been pre-gaming and was only half-seriously flirting with her. David exited the bar as Shannon waited for Caitlyn to change her mind.
“Listen,” she patted his biceps, “call next week. Let’s catch up.”
She kissed Shannon’s cheek again before removing his hands from her body.
“But it’s still early,” he clung to her wrist.
“There you are,” David smiled as he strode casually toward them.
Caitlyn swiftly devised an exit.
“Shan,” she slipped from her friend’s grip, and smiled smartly at her ex. “David’s been dying to see you!”
“Jobs don’t just fall from the sky in New York.”
“So move back to Boston,” Ted repeated.
“Well you’d better figure something out because I’m not letting your mother give you any more money.”
“I never asked for the money,” Caitlyn protested.
“I’m tired of her babying you,” Ted ignored the remark.
“That makes two of us.”
Caitlyn was finished with this conversation. She turned toward the foyer to go upstairs.
“Ungrateful little bitch,” Ted muttered as she took her first step.
“Dad!” Stacy gasped.
Caitlyn spun back around.
“What the fuck did you just say?”
Tommy sat up, eager for the show.
“Watch how you speak to me,” Ted warned, “in my own house.”
“Your own house,” Caitlyn repeated. “The one you built with your two hands,” Caitlyn mocked her father’s pride. “With your skills and the business you started as a young man.”
“Caitlyn,” Stacy cautioned.
“What?” She spread out her arms. “He built it, right? He built everything. Hell, he must’ve wired every bulb in all of Boston, right? What a proud man!
“God forbid a daughter of his have any ambition greater than matrimony or motherhood. And I’m lazy, and stupid, and ungrateful because I don’t wanna get trapped into a life with a prick just like these two.”
Ted got up from his chair and, taking one long stride toward her, slapped Caitlyn across her mouth. It was the first time he’d struck her in eight years.
“Go back to New York,” he spoke quietly into her face, “and fuck up your life. Go chase that ambition.”
“Jesus,” Stacy approached her as their father shuffled out of the room and went upstairs.
Caitlyn’s eyes stung and her lips throbbed.
“Will you drive me to the bus station?” she asked.
“What?” Stacy stroked her little sister’s hair. “No, you don’t mean that.”
“What about Christmas?” Tommy asked. He was still seated, relaxed, on the sofa.
“Shut the fuck up, Tommy,” Caitlyn barked.
She sniffled and wiped her eyes with her shirt sleeve, before looking back to Stacy.
“I’ll call a car if you won’t do it.”
Capital gain has always been the number one American value. It’s the reason why doctors pump patients full of pills that give them symptoms that need more pills to be treated. It’s the reason Sam and Caitlyn will be paying off student loan interest until they’re at least thirty-four.
“Art isn’t exempt from the system just because it’s essentially the most simultaneously human and divine activity any of us can participate in besides sex. But money’s pulled all divinity from sex, and the humanity from art.”
Paula pointed her finger at the glass windows to her left.
“It all comes down to money out there.”
“Money is a necessary tool,” Carol countered, “toward gauging value and worth, and achieving our goals. It’s not nearly as soul-sucking as you’re trying to make it sound.”
“Value and worth?” Paula asked. “You said yourself…”
“Paula,” Carol bit into another croquette, “I don’t want to debate with you.”
“Wait,” Paula protested, “now I’m going. You said the North East was depressing unless you worked at the top of media and show biz, or finance right? So I don’t think we’re debating. I think we’re agreeing on a real situation from two distinct perspectives. I think the entire thing is depressing.
“It shouldn’t be so difficult and unfulfilling at the same time to be comfortable and working class. I grew up with money too. My parents have a really nice house out in Queens, and make good money. They had me and my brother in their early thirties. And I lived in that house my whole life, and they pay my rent now.
“But it’s not the same world for us now that it was for them. We won’t get away with our dreams, or having a good life just by working hard. We’re working from the negatives and we’ll wind up slaving for crumbs and morsels.
“When I’m out of school, if I stay in New York, the only good,” Paula made finger quotes, “opportunities I’ll get are behind a desk, in front of a screen, in an office somewhere in SoHo, or on 11TH Avenue somewhere. And they’ll pay great, and I mean really great for the amount of skill I’m gonna have if I ever decide to graduate. Except,
“So you don’t want an office job?” Carol sought clarification. “No matter how well it pays?”
Caitlyn had always known Paula’s thoughts on art, and society, were sardonic. But she’d never heard them detailed to this extent. She listened prudently to her friend’s exposition.
“God no,” Paula replied, “because no matter how well it pays it will steal something more valuable from me – my creativity, my originality, my identity. My bosses will mold my work into their brand, and I’ll learn to conform my thinking and adjust my process while I perform mind-numbing mouse clicks for nine to eleven hours a day.
“My coworkers will be little competitive idiots who will envy any superiority I demonstrate – even unwillingly – over them, regardless of us all being crabs in the same bucket. And the only ingenuity I could exercise that might possibly benefit me would be plotting against and undermining them on my way to the top of the ad or gallery world.
“I’m not doing that shit. I’m going to fucking France and staying in art school for the rest of my life. I’ll paint in the streets and sell my work right there to whoever wants it and I’ll let my school show my work and if no one cares, no one cares.
“But I’m not gonna eat shit for it, ya know? I’m not gonna give myself a heart attack over anyone’s stupid bullshit deadline for some vector-based seven hundred square pixel graphic I don’t give a shit about. I’m an artist, and I was born to paint.”
Paula finished her speech with a shrug and devoted herself to the squid in front of her.
Carol’s brows came together as she made a bewildered face at Sam, then Caitlyn.
Caitlyn shrugged and returned to her own dish. She figured, for the most part, that Paula meant everything she’d just said. But she didn’t understand how, or even necessarily believe that, Paula intended to spend the rest of her life in school while she painted the streets of France for cash, like some Technicolor love story.
“Seriously?” Caitlyn set down her fork and turned to her friend. “You’re going to paint in the streets of France? That’s not going to make you any real money.”
Paula popped a piece of calamari into her mouth. She chewed slowly, thoughtfully before cupping her fingers beneath her wine glass.
“The grind, the struggle, the trial of endurance is the longest, hardest, most unfulfilling blow job you will ever give. Society shoots its lumpy hot load into your mouth and after what feels like an eternity – the duration of your employable life – what you’re left with is the bitter sticky taste of your own submission.
“You know that one percent those hippies and crusties in the park were talking about last fall? They’re real. There are really people in the world hoarding the majority of the wealth, circle jerking this massively degrading giant bukkake of taxes, interest rates, corruption, war, propaganda, and sickness onto everyone else. And the world is lapping it up because we just want to be touched so badly we don’t care how one-sided the fucking is.
“I don’t want that money. That money isn’t real. No money is real. It passes around and everyone thinks they want some, but I don’t. My most valuable currency – and I think you can appreciate this, Carol – is my mind. That’s the real tool. That’s what’s valuable and worthy and I’m not going to sell it.”
Brenda opened her eyes to observe the bathroom ceiling through a liquid screen of ripples.
Was it really still about Kevin?
Brenda lifted her face out of the water and set the back of her head against the tiles. Steam rose off the surface of the water. She inhaled deeply. Her muscles relaxed.
She couldn’t help but wonder where Kevin and Michelle lived now. And she wouldn’t bother denying as much to herself.
Brenda indulged her curiosity, allowing her mind to conclude that they had definitely gotten their own house once the baby was born. Kevin’s parents had always been generous and tolerant but Brenda couldn’t fathom David and Jaclyn keeping Kevin’s new family in their home for three years.
She recalled the Saturday morning, just before the middle of the first term in senior year, when Michelle had moved out of her mother’s house. Brenda stood in her living room, watching from the window as Kevin loaded the other girl’s belongings into his car. Neither of them had once looked toward her house.
How and why had she stood there that day and put herself through it?
The memory stung, as Brenda remembered how blind she’d been to Michelle’s betrayal, to Kevin’s unfaithfulness. She remembered how weak a girl she’d been raised to be, how naïve, and complicit. She remembered the embarrassment she’d faced at school, and Sandra’s declaration that she’d deserved it…
Brenda blinked hard and ran wet palms down her cheeks. She had already spent three years drowning the pain with liquor and weed.
She was here now to move on with her life. But she knew she couldn’t fully do that until she’d dealt with the past. Brenda had to let herself know those feelings of betrayal and loss; agony and rejection without letting them destroy her again. She would have to embrace her envy when it arose, and pardon herself the desire to know…
Caitlyn opened her eyes to the back of Michael’s right hand, his knuckles inches above her brow. She raised her bare chest off the bed, set her weight on her elbows, and studied him asleep beside her.
Paula was gone, probably to class. The metal lamp beside the fireplace had apparently been on all night. Michael’s room didn’t have a clock or window, and with her phone feet away on the floor, and most likely out of battery, Caitlyn had no sense of the time of day. It felt like eleven in the morning, but could’ve just as easily been four in the afternoon.
She got out of bed and gathered her belongings. Her left nostril was clogged with dried mucus and cocaine residue; the nasal cavity further congested by the warmth of Michael’s heating system. Caitlyn pulled on her shirt and pants. She crushed her panties and dead phone into her back pocket.
White sunlight glowed through the bathroom window, shimmering in the steam while she washed her hair. Hot water sprayed powerfully down her back as Caitlyn opened the obscured glass window to her left. The muted sounds of foot traffic, neighbors’ voices, and cars occasionally gliding down the street convinced her it was probably closer to noon than four.
Caitlyn rinsed her body and shut off the water. She turned her panty inside out, strapped on her bra, and twisted her hair into a tight bun. Then she cleaned her nostrils with hot water and tissue, and she finished dressing.
Michael was in the hall when she emerged from the bathroom. White boxers with thin forest green stripes sat low on his waist. He stood against the wall opposite the door and smiled at Caitlyn.
“I thought you’d never finish,” he said.
He brought his weight off the wall, shoulders first, and moved toward her.
“Your shoes are by the door in the bedroom.”
“Thanks,” Caitlyn moved past him.
“You know how to get home from here?”
“I can take the 5 to Union Square,” she said, “and get the N right?”
“I’ll call you a car,” Michael offered.
“That’s okay,” Caitlyn declined.
“Trust me,” he insisted. “You don’t want to be on a crowded platform, waiting for your train when that hangover kicks in. By the time you get out of the tunnel to Long Island City you’re going to feel like dying.”
Michael stood in the bathroom doorway with his fingers spread against its frame, and watched her.
“I started a pot of coffee. Help yourself.”
“Thanks,” she said again.
He smiled at her once more and shut the door.
“Cause the first time,” he started, “you didn’t know I would pay you, unless Paula told you. Did Paula tell you I would?”
“No, Michael,” Caitlyn replied. “Paula only told me that you had a crush on me.”
“So you slept with me and Paula that night because I had a crush on you?”
“I slept with you because I wanted to.”
“Not because I was feeding you drugs?”
“What do you wanna hear?”
Michael tapped the nightstand with his fingers.
“Do you want some?” he asked.
“I’m good,” Caitlyn declined.
“Is this just sex,” he pushed, “and drugs, and money?”
“It’s a good time,” Caitlyn shrugged.
“What about Boston?”
There was the million dollar question.
“Why’d you ask me to meet your family?”
“Don’t read into that,” Caitlyn warned.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked. “What do you want to hear?”
“I want to know why you invited me to Boston. You say to patch things up between us. But why do you care about patching things up between us if this crush of mine is so one-sided that I can’t even make love to you slowly once, without you shutting down on me?”
“Can you not say ‘make love’ to me please?”
“Can you give me a straight answer?”
“I don’t,” Caitlyn shook her head. “You’re not even making sense. I think I know what you’re trying to ask me, but y-y-your syntax is all off.”
“Don’t, don’t do that,” Michael whined. “Don’t deflect. Just answer me.”
“Look, I like you,” Caitlyn confessed. “It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t have to be. But I don’t wanna be with you. I don’t want to have to explain who else I spend my time with to you. And I don’t want to talk about my family with you. All I want right now is a job. It’s all I’ve wanted for the past two months. I can’t…” she struggled for words.
Caitlyn knew how this conversation was going to go, and she wished she could’ve spared herself.
“Having a boyfriend is not important to me. I need to figure out what I really want to do with my life. I need to find a new job, a real job. I’m too smart to be coked up every weekend, fucking you.”
“You’re saying you don’t like my gentle stroke?”
“I’m saying your gentle stroke,” Caitlyn shook her head, “is giving you problems.”
She walked around the front of the bed and pulled her underwear off the floor.
“I can fuck you slow at night too, you know?”
Caitlyn stood up straight, underwear in her fists, and looked at Michael. He lay comfortably with his left arm up under his neck while he touched his dick with his right hand.
“What do you want Michael?”
“To fuck you how I want to fuck you.”
Caitlyn rolled her eyes.
“Christ, Caitlyn,” he whined. “You don’t have to be so impenetrable all the time. I’ve already been inside of you. I was just there a minute ago.”
“It makes me uncomfortable when you pretend to make love to me.”
“Why?” Michael sat up and moved his body closer to the foot of the bed. “Afraid you might like it? Afraid you might accidentally feel something?”
“Knock it off, Michael.”
Caitlyn looked away from him, inspected the room for more of her things.
Michael hopped from the bed in seconds and stood close to her. He touched her left shoulder with his right hand, took hold of her right wrist with his left hand, and pressed his chest against her body.
“What?” he whispered harshly.
Caitlyn swallowed, bowing her head as she looked to the floor.
“Seriously,” she said quietly. “I thought you wanted no strings. I thought you paid girls to keep it unemotional.”
“Fucking with your head,” Michael breathed against her temple, “is not emotional. It’s optional. Girls have the option of taking my money, and I pay them for the option of messing with their heads.”
Caitlyn lifted her head and shifted her weight. She looked Michael in his eyes.
“And last night?”
“Is over,” he replied. “It’s gone. It’s today now.”
“Here, sit,” he placed me gently on the top step of the deck.
I lay back on the wood almost immediately and looked up at the stars, at the big fluffy clouds. They were like cut-outs of sheer white tights shaped like a pile of cotton balls, and I could see the stars twinkle through them.
He lay back with me.
We were quiet for a few seconds. I rested my crossed fingers on my chest, and could feel the words in my hands as I spoke them.
“Bobby, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t sweat it.”
I felt his reply vibrate in my back, through the wooden deck.
“No, really though,” I went on. “I mean, I’m sorry I was a brat, and…I shouldn’t have said those things I said.”
He sat up on his side and looked at me.
I looked at him.
“What things?” he asked.
“Those things about you being trouble.”
“Well,” he smiled.
There were those damn dimples again.
“You never actually said that I was trouble. You sort of hinted in a sarcastic manner that you were the least likely between the two of us to get into trouble, but you never actually said I was trouble.”
We were quiet again.
Then I said, “Don’t you owe me an apology?”
“Bossing me around?”
“Hey, that was for your own good. But I am sorry if I hurt your feelings or what not.”
“Or what not?” I asked.
“Yeah, I mean…” he shifted. “I mean, I’m sorry that you didn’t like how I spoke to you. I was just worried about you and Karen, you know. You were walking around screaming about the Jamisons and the streets, high off your bottoms, and you’d left her car in front of their house. It was like you weren’t using your brain you know. And I just…”
“You seriously sound like a buzz kill right now,” I said, sitting up. “I mean I thought I was the square.”
“I did too,” he said with a smile. “That’s why I was worried.”
“I thought so.” He reached forward to touch my hair, and it was almost working out like it should in the movies. I thought maybe he might kiss me. I wanted to kiss him, but I had too many nerves about it, and I was battling intoxication.