Authors: Susana Falcon
Since Dylan got caught up in conversation with a documentary film maker, Elyse wandered alone down the darkened hallway off the living room. She wondered bitterly if the techies had been hip to her ignorance and how she'd been duped by Joel the whole time he'd so avidly pursued her.
these guys are all in cahoots
Still, I better play nice if I want to get more work down the line.
She noticed a couple of partiers slip into a room down the far end of the hall and followed to see where they'd gone. Sticking her head through the open door, she found guests seated on a sofa or stretched along the floor watching a rough cut of Joel's film on a flat screen TV. From among the shadowy figures, one of them waved her in, but she only smiled and turned away. Back out in the hallway, she saw somebody slip inside another room and close the door. She wandered toward it, and the door opened a crack, emitting a sliver of light from inside. When it opened wider, Joel's face peered out.
"In here, Elyse," he whispered. "Come in here!"
Before she could respond, he reached out and pulled her in, shutting the door behind her.
He grinned broadly. "I was waiting for you to walk by!"
Elyse found herself standing next to a four-poster bed covered in a lacy white cover lit, with mounds of fluffy pillows on top. Nine or ten others were in the bedroom, too.
"Didn't mean to freak you out there, Elyse," Joel said warmly, "but this, here, is a private party. Not everyone's invited."
"Right," chimed a dark-haired guy reclined casually on the bed. "This is a party within a party, only for the elite."
Elyse glanced over at the guy who barely looked up from flipping through a stack of photographs.
"Well," she said crisply, "aren't I the lucky one, then?"
Joel laughed. "You are, indeed, my pretty." To the guy on the bed he said, "This is Elyse, makeup artist extraordinaire. As a matter of fact, she's the one who made Jolie look so fabulous on her deathbed. Right?" He looked directly at Elyse. "You did Jolie's deathbed makeup, didn't you?"
"Yes. I did all of Jolie's makeup."
The reclining guy looked at her with a crooked smile. "Who knew death could be so much fun?"
Joel and two other listeners laughed.
"Yes-sirree," Joel added, "this is one talented young lady, all right. Not to mention beautiful." He turned to Elyse. "You will go far in life, my dear."
"You think?" Elyse asked.
"Indeed I do," he answered.
In spite of the shift in her feelings toward Joel, his statement gave her hope. After all, look how successful
was. Even after the sleazy betrayal of his marital status, his professional opinion held weight.
"The world is your oyster!" Joel added. "Great things to come, I'm sure. Here--let me get you some champagne."
He turned to a dresser where an ice bucket held a bottle with a towel around its neck.
Elyse turned back to the guy on the bed. "Actually," she said, "when it comes to death..."
The guy shot her a quizzical look.
"You just said, 'Who knew death could be so much fun,'" she explained.
"Right," the guy said, "I remember."
"Well," Elyse added, "the death card came to mind. From the tarot deck. For readings, you know?"
He nodded, so she went on.
"The Death card doesn't always mean real, physical death. It actually signifies any transformation--complete and total. Like, a
big change. Huge."
The guy laughed. "Yeah, I'd say death is a pretty big change, all right!"
Elyse smirked. "Okay, very funny."
"What are you, a card reader, or something? A gypsy?"
Elyse shot him a look. "Do I look like a gypsy?" Before he could answer, she explained. "In the neighborhood where I grew up, this cool, older woman was very knowledgeable about metaphysics--or, the esoteric arts, I guess you'd say. She taught me a few things over the years."
"Ooh--sounds highbrow, when you put it like that."
"Well, it's more evolved than you might think. But what I mean about the Death card is that it doesn't just mean dying. It's about changes that can shift life into a whole 'nother sphere. Like I said-- in a really big way! So big, so profound, in fact, that nothing will ever be the same, again."
Joel returned just in time to catch the end of their exchange. "Here," he said handing Elyse a full champagne flute. "Here's to a big, profound lookin' atcha!" He clinked his own glass against hers.
Elyse chuckled and brought the glass to her lips. She pulled away when fizzles popped against her nose. Both Joel and the guy on the bed cracked up laughing at her expression.
"Cheers," she said with a goofy grin.
"One thing is certain," Joel said. "You are a helluva makeup artist and a lovely person to work with. Let's do it again, sometime."
Elyse lifted her glass. "Here, here to that, sir!"
After she sipped, Joel discreetly led her off to one side. Urging her back against the wall, he brought his lips down to her ear.
"As a matter of fact," he said in a low voice, "why don't we do dinner one night, this week? Wednesday, if you're free."
Elyse gave him an intentionally bland look. "Joel? I met your wife tonight, remember?"
Joel rubbed two fingers across his forehead and shot her a guilty little smile. "She'll be out of town, by then. She was supposed to leave yesterday, back to Europe with her sisters, for a while. But then they decided to wait 'til the end of the week."
"Hello?" Elyse said sarcastically. "As if that makes a difference? You're still married, Joel!"
Again, he spoke quietly. "I know, but not happily."
"But, legally, nonetheless," she stated flatly. Her head shook with incredulity until she forced it to be still. She waited a beat and looked straight in Joel's eyes.
"Joel--I'm sorry. I just can't date a married man." Her expression switched from anger to despair. "And, I really liked you, too."
"Well, I really like you, too, Elyse, or I wouldn't be taking this chance. Dominique would kill me if she knew I was asking you out."
Elyse rolled her eyes. "Duh!"
She happened to catch the reclined guy staring at her and Joel. She felt embarrassed, but was confused about what was proper protocol when dealing with such rudeness from the host at his own party. She felt stuck between a rock and a hard place, considering how Joel had prevailed over filming with god-like status, and now she was a guest in his home. She certainly wanted to remain on good terms so he'd hire her, again, or at least recommend her to others in the industry. In addition to these things, she had to squelch her lingering attraction toward him, which had bloomed from believing he was single. She was saved from further consternation when somebody called him away for a minute.
She glanced over at the man on the bed again. He was watching her. Elyse went over to him.
"Mind if I sit down, here?"
"Not at all, please do." He slid his butt and crossed ankles toward the center to free up some room.
"I'm Elyse," she said as she parked her derriere in the small space he'd created. "And you are?"
"Mickey O'Donovan. Nice to meet ya, Elyse."
"Have I met you before? I feel like I have."
"Maybe you saw my act."
"What act is that? Are there seven virgins and a mule?"
"Funny girl. Maybe you should help me write some new material."
Then it dawned on her.
"Oh, you're a stand-up. Right. I met you one day on the shoot. Sorry, but I've never seen your act."
"Well, maybe you should, funny girl. Come over to Gotham's Comedy Club sometime. I'll even get you in for free."
"Sure, why not? Love to."
He handed her his business card.
"Wednesday through Sunday night, early and late shows. The late show's usually better."
She tucked the card inside her wallet. "Thanks."
"Just give me a call ahead of time," he added.
Elyse felt a tap on her shoulder and looked up to see Joel towering above. He nudged his head to indicate she ought to come over, so she joined him by the desk where a paunchy bald guy sat. When the paunchy guy cracked an inside joke, he and Joel both burst out laughing.
Elyse waited a beat before she interrupted. "Yes, Herr Director?"
"Ah, there she is," he said. He turned to the paunchy guy. "Meet a beautiful, talented lady, Craig. Miss Elyse Wazinski. She worked as a makeup artist on the shoot."
Craig turned a lascivious smile toward Elyse. She hated him at once.
"Ah, yes," he said. "Very beautiful. Nice to meet you, Elyse."
"Nice to meet you, too," she lied. She turned to Joel. "I just hope my career goes forward, after this."
"Ah, not to worry, my dear," Joel waxed. "Some girls got it all, and you are one of them. Like I said, before--the world is your oyster."
Elyse was about to make a wisecrack about Shakespeare shucking shellfish, when Joel handed her a short, plastic straw with an angled edge.
"Here," he said, "let me hold your champagne glass while you partake."
"In what?" But one look at the desk top and she knew.
Thin lines of crystalline, white powder were laid out neatly along a mirror. She glanced at Craig running his forefinger along the edge of the credit card rimmed with residual powder from chopping it up. He then stuck his forefinger inside his mouth and rubbed it against his gums. She winced in disgust at the sublime expression on his face, his finger lodged between rubbery lips massaging his gum line. Such obvious sensual pleasure on his flaccid, pasty face made her want to puke. She looked at Joel.
"Honestly, Joel, I haven't done this, like, in eons. I'm not sure I even can anymore."
"It's like riding a bike, my dear," Joel said seductively. "Look... Plug one side of your nose like this, put the other side over one end of the straw, and run the other over the powder, like that. Then suck up, up and away!"
Elyse swallowed hard to stave off panic. Drugs had never been her thing, not after an acid trip back in high school. That had turned into one crazy-ass night, where she learned just how overactive an imagination she truly possessed. Hallucinating for hours and hours, she'd prayed hard to stave off insanity. And she always swore a Higher Power had, indeed, helped her stay sane, that night. She'd vowed never to do drugs, again.
Somewhere along the line, she'd broken that vow when she tried cocaine to please some boyfriend. Nothing serious had happened then, but again, she'd found messing with pharmaceuticals was simply not her cup of tea.
At this moment in time, however, she was considering how a refusal might affect her standing with Joel. Wearing a big grin on his face, he was clearly game. Maybe it really wouldn't be so bad to do it, just this once. After all, it had been years since she'd tried it. She feared insulting Joel by refusing his offer, which might also render her un-cool and threaten work on future projects. Then again, her own health and welfare were more important than pleasing the boss--weren't they?
Just as she decided to politely decline, Craig intervened.
"Here, Elyse, look."
Like a magician about to do a trick, he reached inside his jacket pocket and plucked out a twenty-dollar bill which he rolled into a tight little straw. Next, he put it on the desk at the edge of a powdery line and lowered his head. Then, he placed one nostril at the open end of the bill and plugged the other nostril with a chubby finger. As he pushed the bill along the line of coke, he inhaled deeply and drew it up his nose until it was all gone. Without further ado, he repeated the action with his other nostril and sucked up the next line of coke. Then he sat up fast, threw his head back and sniffed loudly.
"Whew! Good stuff, man!"
Elyse looked at him in disgust. She nevertheless felt as if a gauntlet had been thrown and took up the unspoken challenge. With the plastic straw in hand, she braced herself and daintily pressed a finger against her left nostril. Bending down, she sniffed up a line of the powder in lady-like fashion.
She stood fast and pinched the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger.
"Nicely done," Joel cooed.
"A regular Hoover!" Craig blurted.
"Do the rest of this line here, Elyse," Joel urged. "And this one, too."
She got it over with quickly and handed the straw back to Joel.
"Awesome," she fibbed. "May I have my champagne back now, please?"
When she stepped back to let others come and take their turn, she bumped into Mickey standing right behind her.
"Good stuff, Elyse?"
"No," she snapped quietly, "it burns!"
"Oh," he asked slyly, "running down the back of your throat?"
She leaned against the armoire and groaned. "Yes, as a matter of fact. Can't say I'm a fan."
Mickey narrowed his eyes in thought. A moment later, he went over to Craig. "You score this stuff tonight, guy?"
"Yeah, buddy, sure did."
"Didn't you say your regular guy was out of town?"
Craig glared at him before switching to a smile. "Yeah, but I went direct to his provider. Don't worry, my friend, it's pree-mo, grade-A goods."
Elyse decided Craig was a smug bastard she wouldn't trust as far as she could throw him. Joel ended all thoughts about Craig, however, when he sidled up and put his nose against the top of her head.
"God, your hair smells good," he whispered. "I'd like to run my hands through it--and my lips all over your neck."
Elyse mouth dropped in surprise, and she blushed.
Joel growled softly. "You have the softest, thickest hair I've ever seen, I swear!"
He tugged at the end of her long, brunette mane hung loosely down her back. Elyse turned and faced him. He brought his mouth close enough for a kiss. She drew herself away.
"I'd love to take you up on that, sir, but I can't. Like I said--I don't date married men."
"It's over, though, Elyse--me and Dominique. It's been over for quite some time, now. D'you know, we haven't had sex in over a year?"
"No," she said, "I didn't know. I didn't even know you were married 'til tonight."