Authors: Scarlett Ward
“Yeah! That’s the one. It was a little artsy for my taste, but . . . that scene with the two of them . . . totally made it worth it. Could I . . . could I get your autograph?”
The elevator has stopped, third floor. Tourist Guy has stepped across the threshold but is standing there, looking hopefully at Megan.
“I don’t have any paper,” she says. “Or a pen.”
Tourist Guy looks over at me. “Do you have a pen?” he asks. “Are you her publicist?”
I rummage through my purse and pull out a pen, which I hand over to Megan. “No,” I say. “I’m actually her—”
“She’s a dominatrix,” Megan says. “Though you would never know by looking at her. That’s what makes her one of the best in the field. And she’s been hired to help me prepare for my next role. It’s a cross of
.” She puts a finger up to her lips. “But it’s top secret, so don’t tell anyone.”
She ends up signing her name on Tourist Guy’s arm, because of course he doesn’t have a piece of paper, either. Her scrawl is illegible; she could’ve just written
eat shit and die
for all he knows. But he’s beaming and thanks her and then he’s gone and the elevator door is closing and suddenly we’re there on the fifth floor.
Megan ushers me out of the elevator quickly and down the hallway, as though she can sense my deteriorating will. My mouth is dry. What was I thinking? That I’m just going to flounce up to this strangers door, knock, go in, and have mind-blowing sex? No. This might be L.A. and everything, but that sort of thing only happens in the movies, and certainly doesn’t happen to someone like me.
“Go on,” Megan says. “I’ll wait here. It’s that door right there.”
But I stop when she does. She nudges me. “I can’t,” I say. It’s as though my feet are rooted to the ground. I’m not taking another step, unless it’s back to the elevator.
“Yes you can.”
“No, I can’t. This is stupid. And
! Keep your voice down. He’s probably standing there on the other side of the door, listening.”
Megan laughs. “Bullshit. Just knock. I won’t let anything bad happen. If he’s awful, we’ll go get drinks and laugh about it.”
His door is literally about four feet away. But I can’t do it. It’s like standing on the ledge of a very steep cliff, and even you’re supposedly harnessed and the bungee cord is strong, you just can’t pull the trigger and make yourself jump.
“Megan, I can’t.” My voice is shaky. “Let’s just go home.”
She folds her arms across her chest. “We came this far. I am
going to let you give up now. What kind of friend would I be? You need to get laid. And we
his picture online. We know he’s attractive. Even if he doesn’t have the best personality, that sort of doesn’t even matter when you’re having sex. This I know from personal experience. How about you text him and ask to meet down in the bar? That way it’s less private, less awkward if you need to escape.”
I glance at his door. “Okay,” I say. “Okay, I can do that.”
We get back in the elevator and I don’t lean against the wall this time. I send him a text:
Hey, I’m here. I was thinking I might like to have a drink first. Want to meet in the bar?
We’re back in the lobby when my phone dings.
, his message reads.
Wherever you’re most comfortable. Though I’m not going to go psycho on you, or try any funny business, unless, of course, that’s what you’d like. Be down there in five.
“Did he respond?” Megan asks.
“Yes. He says he won’t go psycho on me, unless I request it. That’s probably a sign to just call it a night and go home, right? I mean, he’s basically admitting that he
go psycho on me.”
Megan shakes her head. “Anyone could go psycho at any time.”
I nudge her with my elbow. “That’s so deep of you.”
“I’m just saying—if anything, it’s a sign that you’re in for a good time. Now, let’s go get at least one drink in you before he gets down here.”
Fuck Los Angeles. I mean,
. I’ve been here a day and it’s already been one day too long. This whole thing is a disaster, so I guess it makes sense to have it happen in this disaster of a city, but the second the vows have been said, I am out of here and back to London.
Mum phones. I consider not answering, since I’m expecting a knock on the door at any moment, but I pick up because I’m sure she’s a bit frazzled, what with the big event happening in less than two weeks, despite her insistence that she doesn’t give a toss what my father does anymore.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” she asks. “You’re not missing much over here. It’s supposed to rain again.”
“No, I wouldn’t say
is the proper word to use. Though it’s not raining here; I think earlier today I was able to make out something resembling the sun through all the smog. I understand why you divorced him,” I say. “I don’t care who I was married to; if they were going to insist I live here, I’d be gone in a heartbeat.”
She laughs. “Oh, darling, living in Los Angeles was only a fraction of the reason your father and I got divorced. Though it is a wretched place, I agree with you wholeheartedly about that.”
“Not if you like plastic, I suppose.”
“Have you . . . have you met her yet?”
“I do wonder what she’s like.”
“I’ll be sure to give you the full report. We’ve got to spend two weeks ‘getting to know each other’ so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to tell you. Should I go out and buy some ‘Hello my name is’ labels?”
“That might be a nice touch.”
“I mean, how long have they known each other? Five months? Five weeks? I don’t see what the rush is.”
Mum laughs. “I don’t know if it’s sad or ironic that this is the sort of conversation I’d expect to have with your father about
“You’d never have this conversation with him about me because I’m never getting married. Don’t really see a need for it. It seems like a waste of time and a waste of money. For something that’s most likely not going to work out anyway.”
“Oh, darling. When did you become so jaded? You’re too young for that type of talk. And I
hope that some day you will revise your feelings on it—I’d like grandbabies some day. Emphasis on
I decide it’s better not to mention that my early childhood memories of my parents’ contentious relationship have all but cemented by decision to never get married. Why do that to someone? Why do that to yourself? Relationships can be messy and complicated enough as it is, getting married just seems to add a whole extra layer of unnecessary catastrophe.
“And some people just work better as a couple,” Mum continues. “Your father was always saying that. Problem with him was that he wanted to be part of more than
couple. I’m sure the next Mrs. Carter will figure that one out in no time.”
“So, it can’t really be considered bad manners to not attend a wedding that you know is doomed to fail then, can it? Even if you are the son?”
“Oh, Jai,” she says. “You should go; you’re already there. I know it will mean a lot to your father.” Inwardly, I scoff. I doubt he will even notice if I’m there. “And it’ll be over soon enough,” Mum continues. “I do hope you’ll manage to have a bit of fun while you’re out there.”
I glance at the clock on the bedside table, green numbers aglow. That “bit of fun” is actually about five minutes late.
“I’m going to try,” I say.
“Good. That’s all I ask.”
I chat with Mum for a few more minutes, but then get off when I hear something out in the hallway. Or
I hear something. I toss the phone down on the bed and pad quietly over to the door. Female voices. They’re whispering. Wait a minute…
Yes you can
No, I can’t. This is stupid. And shh! Keep your voice down. He’s probably standing there on the other side of the door, listening
I smile. One of the girl’s laughs. “
Bullshit. Just knock. I won’t let anything bad happen. If he’s awful, we’ll go get drinks and laugh about it
Megan, I can’t
.” Her voice is muffled, but I can hear a shakiness, like she’s about to cry. Hmm. This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I’ve only actually met a few girls online, but they were all ready and raring to go. None of this standing outside the door, ready to cry.
And then they’re gone, it’s quiet out in the hallway, and I figure it’s off. Well, well, well. Shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise, I suppose, should it? Easy enough to hop back online, though I could also just mosey on down to the bar and see what sort of trouble I could rouse up there . . .
No sooner does this thought enter my mind when her text comes through, asking me if I’ll meet her at the bar. So she hasn’t chickened out, not completely. I respond and tell her I’ll be down in five, even though I’m ready and could head down right now. Don’t want to seem too eager.
Except I am, which is a bit nutty, if you want to know the truth. I blame it on the fact that I’m here, in this foreign place, forced to participate in a debacle that I have to pretend to be excited about. I need a distraction, and nothing does the trick better than a good fuck. I go into the bathroom, splash a little water on my face. I could use a shave actually, but if I go down there with a face as smooth as a baby’s bum, well, that’s
going to seem far too eager, and that is not the image I am trying to perpetuate.
Once I get down to the bar, it doesn’t take me long to find her. Even though she’s sitting down, I can tell she’s taller than I thought she’d be, and not plastic at all, thank goodness. She’s seated at one of the small tables, the girl next to her completely camouflaged in big sunglasses and a zany head wrap. They’ve got half-finished glasses of white wine in front of them.
“Hello,” I say, realizing that I don’t actually know her name, only her screen name. I extend a hand. “I’m Jai. Figure we should get the formal introductions out of the way first so you don’t have to refer to me as
“Oh, but you are,” the sunglasses girl says. She takes a sip of wine and smiles appreciatively. “You’re even better looking that your picture.”
“Thanks,” I say. “Since I can’t actually tell
you look like under that getup, I’ll have to assume it’s to disguise either great beauty or severe disfigurement.”
“Are those my only two choices?”
“Afraid so.” I look at
, who actually is something like a beautiful dream.
“I’m Emma,” she says.
She takes my hand and meets my eyes for a second before looking away, blushing a little. I’d been wondering she if she’d been having a go at me, claiming that she’d never done this online thing before, but it’s clear she was telling the truth, a fact that I now find rather charming.