Image by Dawn Estrin
On the one-hundredth day of not speaking, Max called, wanting to reconcile over drinks at the Polo Lounge. Toni scurried to Nordstrom’s and bought a way too expensive little black dress with a neckline down to there, and splurged on a ridiculous pair of sparkly fuck-me shoes and a beaded little ladybug bag.
She showered and shaved, perfumed and plucked; she took extra feminine hygiene measures and then chugged over Coldwater Canyon arriving thirty minutes too early, so she drove around Beverly Hills and scored a traffic ticket for a slow slide through a stop sign. She made an okay living as a new junior associate at a Miracle Mile investment firm, but lately her spending was a whole robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul ordeal, and the last goddamn thing she needed was a ticket.
At five minutes to seven, Toni pulled up to the hotel entry and the valet took her VW Beetle, she so glad that she’d run it through the car wash a few days ago and emptied it of the fast food wrappers and empty Starbucks cups . She’d been grieving-by-drive-through, and if it weren’t for the fact that she regularly paced half the night instead of sleeping, she would’ve gained more than the five pounds that went straight to her tits and ass. The extra jiggle made her feel more present in a room.
She made her way to the Polo Lounge, sat at the bar and ordered an appletini, feeling break-through sweat in her armpits despite two layers of industrial strength deodorant. Birds batted in her chest. Max thrilled her deeply, viscerally. She could devour him like a ham sandwich.
At seven-fifteen, she ordered another appletini.
She’d loaned him a hundred dollars. It was clear that it was a loan. Mostly, she paid for their nights out, and Max liked his nightlife. If Max had some kind of acting gig, they’d split expenses and she was more than glad to do it.
But it was definitely a loan and all she did was ask when he thought he could pay her back. She asked because it had been a few months and he’d gotten some bit parts on a few sit-coms and then he’d flown to Vegas for a few nights with the guys, and so she thought maybe it had slipped his mind or something.
He wrote her a check, mad, stopped calling, and wouldn’t return her calls.
The check bounced.
And she grieved, given to sudden crying jags, insomnia and the comfort of a cheesy bean burrito. The irrational love-junkie in her knew how to kidnap and kick the shit out of her self-esteem and logic.
She hoped that Max would fuck her tonight. She needed a fuck and even though the fucking wasn’t all that great with him, even though he was pretty selfish and awfully quick, the possibilities of what it could be kept her hooked.
AT SEVEN-THIRTY the man sitting across from her raises his drink. Hers is empty again, but she raises it and the man indicates to the bartender to get her another. Toni thinks of protesting but another drink is exactly right.
At seven-forty-five the man sits next to her. My name is Ara, he says.
I’m waiting for someone, she says. Ara smells like oranges and incense and like what she’d imagine myrrh to smell like. He has a slight accent, a burgundy cashmere sweater and black silk velvet jacket. Groomed up the wazoo.
She checks her cell, no calls. She calls Max, no answer. Ara orders her a fourth appletini. She imagines straddling him as he talks of the Arabian horses he raises somewhere. She might-could let him fuck her in the ass, she thinks, as he talks of Turkish coffee and clotted cream on the Bosporus. She leans close and feels a magnetic field, a heavy alchemy, something she’s felt with only a few dozen men in her life.
I have a room, he says, paying the bar bill. I don’t think your friend is coming.
My friend? She tries not to slur. Fuck my friend, she says.
He takes her arm and she wobbles in her sparkly fuck-me shoes, hoping not to fall. They pass through the lobby and she sees Max rushing, a cellophane-wrapped bunch of supermarket flowers in his hand. She flutters her fingers, but he doesn’t see her. Ara pushes the elevator button. Up.
Fuck my friend, she mumbles again.
In the room, Ara pours little splits of champagne. To life, he says.
They drink and he kisses her, fully, passionately. She is ready to suck his asshole. If she had a tail, it would be thumping.
Then he asks her if they should take care of business first. She thinks he’s talking about taking a leak, but then she sees him reach for his wallet. For one horrible moment she wonders if he expects her to pay him, gigolo-like, the desperation and need so obvious in her, but then she gets it and she flares with mortification despite her solidly drunk state, to think, that he thinks, that she, USC, MBA, magna cum laude—
He’s swarthy and suave, hirsute with sensual lips and dark dangerous eyes. She’s ecstatically drunk, hopelessly horny. She’s in the Beverly-fucking-Hills Hotel. What’s she supposed to say, that she’s willing to give it up real good for free? She could use some recouping.
A thousand dollars, she says. She hiccups; holds her breath.
My pleasure, he says. He pulls out ten new one-hundred dollar bills and gives them to her. She tucks them into her cute little ladybug bag.
And they fuck, up, down, sideways and under, and then a hard, deep sleep.
Next morning he’s in a terry cloth robe, already showered and oozing his spicy citrus smell. He offers her coffee from a silver tray replete with croissants, Danishes, cheeses, jams. Her head pounds, she has to pee. He hands her a robe and she gets up, pees, and wipes some of the makeup off from around her eyes, swipes at her teeth with his toothbrush. She stuffs her ragged panty hose into the trash and dresses in her wrinkled little black dress and fuck-me shoes, garish and sad in the California light of day.
I have a meeting, he says. But next time I’m in Los Angeles I’d love to call you.
She gives him her phone number. She bites her lip. I’m not really, I’m not—
He pulls out another hundred-dollar bill. I love your enthusiasm, he says. She blushes hotly. She does recall a fair amount of enthusiasm. She takes the money.
One day, Toni will manage Ara Babajanian’s fifty million dollar portfolio. He will be one of her most loyal clients at the conservative investment firm that will one day make her a partner, and one day Toni and Ara will share more champagne and they will laugh loud and hard about this night. By then, Max will be a dim memory, a shallow notch on the headboard of her life.
But right now she holds her head high as she struts lightly through the lobby to the main entrance, realizing that attitude is half of everything. She could feel degraded, corrupt, fallen—but the cool clear reality of being fabulously fucked and financially flush trumps. Win, win. She digs into her ladybug bag and gives the valet a hefty tip, and then gets into her car and drives away, a little less wide in the eye, a little less dew on the petal, wiser, maybe, sadder, hardly.
Alicia Gifford‘s short fiction has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Narrative Magazine, Hobart, The Los Angeles Review, Confrontation, FRiGG, The Barcelona Review, Best American Erotica, and more journals and anthologies.“Fallen” first appeared in Pank 4. Reprinted with permission.