Sunday, August 30, 2015

Gone Long Enough

I've been neglecting the blog.  I know.  There is just too much happening in my life and sitting for a spell to get some of it down...well let's just say that it's easier said than done.

Big life stuff happening.

My folks sold their house in Brooklyn and left NYC to start a new chapter in Texas.  Don't ask me why.  Me and my sisters are still scratching our heads over that one but we are happy they have the resources to be able to figure that out. It's been an emotional time, seeing our childhood home sold, helping my parents sort and pack 40 years worth of stuff,  etc, etc. My mom still tears up on the phone when I talk to her.  Let's just say that change is never easy for my family.

I've moved from Windsor Terrace to Sunset Park.  I need to take advantage of the park nearby but I seem to still be in the process of figuring out where everything goes in my apartment.  After a month of being here...I think I have finally scrubbed the last of the grime that was leftover from the previous tenant. My raw hands can attest to the cleaning frenzy I've been in.

The writing is still going.  I uploaded my short story Clara Betta on here after I received another rejection.  I gotta be honest, I took that one hard.  Instead of thinking of it as just another no, I took it on as "my work is just not good enough".  It played into this very deep insecurity I have about my writing and thought...I may as well just put it up on my blog.  I'd rather an audience read and see what I do instead of trying to find a place for it in this myriad of online sites. Is it my best work?  Probably not.  It's something tho' and I'm just going to keep going...hopefully the writing will get better.

I've been working on a short play called Elena.  I've sent it off to a short play festival. Let's see if I get a bite.  It's a fairly new piece and it's already gone through several rewrites, thanks to my writing partner Christine.

It's funny I was coming down hard on myself recently because I felt like I wasn't writing enough.  And I realized that I've been journal writing, doing some loose stream-of-consciousness writing for story ideas as well working on some short projects.  I really need to loosen the crazy tyrant in my head that convinces me that I haven't been doing the work.  When quite frankly all I seem to be doing lately is work.  Both in my day job as well as my writing life.  In fact, one of the first things I enjoyed in my new apartment was making myself a strong cup of tea and working quietly for several hours without interruption.  That was like sweet nectar for the soul.  The last cheesy line can attest to how much I loved it.

Anyway, I spent the better part of Saturday at the Vet.  Poor Pandora was bleeding profusely from her mouth.  There was blood all over my duvet and the bleeding wouldn't stop.  I spent 7 hours waiting... every time the vet came out to talk to me she was giving me worst case scenarios. First she thought P may have gotten into some rat poison and she might be in the throes of liver failure after one of her blood test showed that her blood wasn't clotting.  Then they ran the test again and her blood was fine. Eesh.  I sat in the waiting room reading a book.  I wanted to distract myself from the possibility of losing her. Pandora will be 17 years old at the end of the year, she's been with me for the past 14 years.  It's crazy to fathom life without her at this point.  I know death is inevitable but I guess I'm not quite ready to face that reality.

At the end of that long day, the bleeding had stopped, they still don't know what's wrong, and I have to bring her back for a dental appointment so they can take a better look while she's under anesthesia.  It might be the root of the tooth, hopefully they won't have to pull it.  Anyway, very grateful my folks left me some cash before they headed out of town.

What's next?  A much needed vacation in Italy in October.  Can't wait.  I'm making it into a writing retreat. I'll bring a couple of projects to work on.  I'm not sure if the novel is coming with me but it's a possibility.

I think I've gone on long enough...



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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Short Story: Clara Betta

It’s the start of a new week. I am getting ready for work as an administrative assistant at RPM Management, a small boutique financial firm.  I work for Alpha males straight out of Ivy League schools. Most of the young associates are dating, engaged, or married to willowy girls in their early 20s. I make note of this whenever I see the happy-couple-photo on their desk. 
            At 39, I am neither willowy nor in my early 20s so the potential of dating anyone in this office is pretty low.  It doesn’t discourage me from being flirtatious but they never really take me seriously.  I am short and overweight by a good 40 lbs, but that doesn’t stop me from at least trying. I have two advanced degrees in English and Philosophy and I make a whopping 38K a year.  In New York City, this means barely scraping by when I pay $1,000 a month on my studio apartment in Inwood and I owe 50K in student loans.  This was never the dream but it’s a steady gig.
            As I dress for work, I realize every article of clothing I own has seen better days. I opt for a purple gauzy tunic over a camisole and a loose-fitting pair of work slacks.  On my small stature, I am just trying to hide the fleshy bits but really who am I kidding? It’s my best attempt of giving the appearance of being put together.  I apply mascara, eyeliner, a tint of lip color and I’m off to face another day at work.
            Mary Klein, the office manager, is out on vacation this week.  I always enjoy it when she’s out because I have free reign over the office space. As I go through my morning routine of looking through my email, Manny comes by with his new associate, Brandon Oliver.  Another 27-year old boy fresh out of business school, he has dark hair and light grey eyes, he is well over 6 feet tall, thin and reedy in that New York hipster way but this one is wearing a suit on his first day.  I shake his hand, “Pleasure meeting you. If you have any questions feel free to come by.”
            Manny agrees. “Clara is the person who knows how to get things done around here so don’t be afraid to ask her questions.”
            I smile. “I’m here if you need me.”  Manny takes Brandon to meet the next analyst and I can’t help admire the looks of this young new associate as I watch them through the glass office. For a moment I wish I was twenty again and then Brandon looks my way and gives a wink. I feel the heat of a blush start to rise and I give him a lopsided grin. I turn around and head to the kitchenette where I make myself a cup of tea. A strange sensation of wanting more makes my throat ache. More of what? I’m not sure. I grab a blueberry muffin from the tray of leftovers from the 8 a.m. meeting and go back to my desk.  A sweet treat will tamp down whatever is making me act like a schoolgirl over a wink from a young new associate. 
When I return to my desk there is a post-it note, “Need your help. Brandon.”  What could he possibly need? I take a deep breath and walk over to his cube. 
Brandon has taken off his jacket and he’s rolling up his sleeves while cradling the phone in his shoulder. I whisper. “I can come back later.” 
Brandon shakes his head, holds up a finger and whispers back. “I’ll be off in a second.”
I lean against a pillar out of his sight line.  The voice comes through the phone shrill and insistent.  He cuts the caller off. “You’ve made your point. I’ve heard you. But I’m not paying for it. Let’s talk about this later.”  He hangs up without waiting for a reply.
Brandon gives me a sheepish grin. “We all want the last word.”
 “Do we?”
“When we’re in the right, we do.”
I smile and wonder what he’s right about.  “Did you need something?”
“I’m having trouble logging into the LARK system. I get the message, network access denied.”
 It’s an easy fix. His cologne is strong and bright with a lemony scent.  It reminds me of clean scrubbed bodies. I blush.
I punch an extension on his phone while giving Brandon instructions. “Pull up your main screen so I can see your computer name.”  He does it while the phone rings on the other end over the speakerphone. Jackson answers.
“Good morning Jackson, this is Clara.  I need terminal 75GHL to be given network privileges.”
Jackson grumbles. “I took care of that request.” I hear him type over the speakerphone.  His tone turns apologetic, “Clara, I thought I took care of this on Friday.”  I hear him quickly tap keys on his end. 
“No harm, no foul Jackson.  We just need Brandon on the network so he can start earning his paycheck.” 
“Try it now.”
Brandon punches in his passcode and the system moves into a starting sequence.
“That did the trick, thanks Jackson.”
“You owe me a coffee Clara.”
“For doing your job? I don’t think so.  I think you owe me a soy latte for not getting it done last week as promised.” 
Jackson laughs. “Give me a call when you’re back at your desk.”
            “Will do. Thanks again.” 
Brandon looks at me and says. “You’re one tough cookie.”
He hits a nerve. My demeanor turns cool, “Hit enter for me. Enter this code: 7795468. Hit Return.” 
The LARK system opens up to graphs and e-tickers to the stock market, his computer is up and running. I walk off without waiting for a thanks.  I could feel myself getting into a snit over being called a “ tough cookie.” The term irks me.
I sip my tea while I wait for my desktop to come back to life.  I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the hand mirror and my hard expression makes me look every bit of my age. I notice grey hairs peek through my dark brown hair. I need to pick up some hair dye.  Perhaps a lighter shade so I don’t have to color quite so often.
As I scan emails, a subject line catches my attention from Alice, our HR rep, it reads, “Call me ASAP.”  I dial Alice’s phone number. My mouth is dry and sour from the strong cup of tea.  She picks up on the third ring.  “Hi Alice, it’s Clara. I just saw your email.  What’s up?”
“Would you mind stopping by my office? We need to talk.”
Twenty minutes later, I’m back at my desk and my eyes burn with unshed tears.  Anger takes over and the phone rings. “What?” I bark not glancing at the number display. 
Gary Sorin is on the line, my least favorite person.  “Clara, I still didn’t get reimbursed for the Boston trip. It’s been a month. What’s the hold up?”
 “You’ll have to ask Mary.” My throat is tight.
 “If Mary was available, I wouldn’t be asking you now would I?”
Gary is on the verge of being promoted to analyst. Management gives him too much latitude, which makes him both entitled and arrogant. He’s notorious for expensing high-ticket items without approval. Mary wields her very limited power to make sure all items on the expense reports are legitimate, which means she and Gary often go head-to-head over his vouchers.  Today he’s looking for someone to vent his frustrations on but I am not in the mood.
 “Gary, you’ll have to address the issue with Mary when she returns next week.”
“But I’ll have to pay for this out-of-pocket!” He yells. 
“It’s out of my hands. Can I help you with anything else?” Gary hangs up on me in reply.
I sit in my cube, list my finances and crunch my numbers but I’m barely making ends meet. When I worked as an adjunct, I made less than I make now.  I taught five classes a semester at three different colleges, which accounted for roughly 110 students, read and graded papers on the train and on weekends plus planned lectures, and worked on my own academic work for publication. I worked constantly to eke out a living. I took on temporary work just to supplement my income.  When temping started to pay better than teaching, I decided to work in the private sector. I knew I was overeducated for the assistant positions but that didn’t matter as long as I had some steady income and decent health benefits for a change. Now I am staring into the abyss of possibly losing this job and it scares me. I thought this post would give me some peace of mind. Boy, was I wrong.  
The phone rings.  It’s Jackson.  I forgot to call him back.  I didn’t really want to deal with any office-related issues so I walk over to Mark’s office to bum a cigarette off him. He asks. “I thought you quit?” 
“I did.” I borrow his lighter and walk out into the stairwell. It’s against building policy to smoke in the stairwell but there is a small group of junior associates that do it anyway. Management lets them slide if it means keeping associates on the floor. I sit alone in the stairwell, take a long drag and let the smoke linger in my lungs before releasing it. Tears sting my eyes.  I try desperately to hold them back but they pool and slide down my face.  I blot my cheeks with my tunic sleeves leaving black mascara behind. I notice that the edges are frayed and by the look of it, the sleeves have been worn down and torn for a long time.  I’ve been wearing this shirt for months without seeing the condition of it.
Brandon walks down the stairs, talking on his cell, balancing two coffees in a cardboard tray.  He’s in a heated exchange. “It doesn’t change anything. Natasha, you apologize, then turn around and do the exact same thing. Will you just grow the fuck up?”  He hangs up and spots me.  “You seem to be everywhere, don’t you?”  He sees my face and asks. “You all right?”
“I should ask you the same question.”
He sits next to me.  “That stuff will kill you.”
“So I’ve been told.” 
He takes up one of the cups and offers it to me. 
“What’s this?”
“I have a knack for saying the wrong things. As soon as ‘tough cookie’ came out of my mouth, I knew I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”  He looks straight into my eyes when he apologizes.
I grab the coffee, take a sip and find that it’s a soy latte. “Apology accepted.”
He passes me a napkin. “For your cheeks before your mascara dries up.”
I take a hard swipe across my cheeks.  “Thanks.”  I dab closer to my eye line where tears are still welling up.
Brandon asks. “So what has you hiding in a stairwell?” 
How do I explain to this virtual stranger how everything I’ve ever worked for never turns out the way I hoped? Instead, I tell him the other part of the truth.  
 “I’m on probation.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been written up. It’s the first step before being fired.  If I don’t get my act together, I’m out.”
“What for?” 
“It doesn’t really matter. My manager is just looking for a way to push me out. And I’m just having a bit of a pity party for myself.”
            “What a shitty way to start the week.”
            “You’re telling me.” My throat tightens and I hear my voice rise a bit.  “Your turn. What’s got you all bent out of shape?”
            Brandon takes a sip from his coffee. “I’m going to preface this by saying that I know this is nothing compared to what you’ve just told me but you asked.  Natasha, my fiancĂ©e…we’re planning our wedding.  She wants to spend far more than our very small budget. I want to make her happy but I don’t want to be $25,000 in the hole.  She doesn’t understand that these decisions affect both of us now. She actually wants to buy a $10,000 wedding dress, a dress that she will wear only once in her life. Who does that?”  Brandon gets up. “I don’t want to be the bad guy in all this. I want her to have a special day but I don’t want to be bankrupt at the end of it either.”
            “Shitty way to start the week.”  I try to sound sincere but sarcasm edges my words. They are arguing over a $10,000 dress and I’m trying to find a way to survive the next couple of months. I smooth over the frayed edges of my sleeve and try to hide the damage.
Brandon gives me a half-smile. “Like I said, I know it doesn’t compare to what you’re going through but...I have to get back.”
            I nod.  “Thanks for the latte.”
            Brandon goes easily down the stairs and looks back up at me.  “For what it’s worth, she might not let you go.”
“Thanks. For what it’s worth, I’m sure the two of you will figure things out.” Once he’s gone, I take a pull from the last of my cigarette and squish it beneath my shoe. I look up at the ceiling and let the smoke billow out above my head. Why did I ever quit smoking?    
            For the next two weeks, I am desperate to land another job before the worst-case scenario in my head plays out in my actual life. I work quietly but I’m tense.  Mary is back from her vacation but she acts as if nothing is amiss. We talk about expense reports but not much else. I spend the better part of my days skimming the classifieds online and send out resumes at work.
It’s easier to look for work at the office than to try to do it at the end of the day from home where the desperation is deeply rooted in my self-esteem.  I take more breaks and sit in the stairwell when the panic starts to set in.  Brandon joins me from time to time. He talks me down from my worst-case scenario existence and I talk him down from cancelling his wedding. 
By Thursday I’m ready for a drink.  I go to a local pub after work, pull myself up onto a high stool at the end of the bar and order a Vodka Martini. I need some liquid courage to face my empty apartment and my future. It’s still early and the place is relatively empty. It will be another hour before the analysts in the area crowd the place.  An hour is all I need before I head back to my apartment. 
            I sip a very strong martini and my throat burns as the vodka goes down. The alcohol loosens the tension in my body. When I was younger, I had high aspirations to leave my mark on the world. I wanted to write and impact a new generation of writers. I wanted my stories to be in the mix only to discover that I wasn’t really very good. Passion far outweighed ability or talent. I was mediocre on my best days. And one day I just gave up.
I thought I had this assistant position down pat but what I continue to fail at is navigating the office politics.  I forgot my place in the pecking order. Mary is the queen bee and I am a threat to her if I’m too capable. Unless I curb my ways, she’ll force me out. Now I’m left trying to figure out what to do next with myself. What a huge cosmic joke my life was turning out to be.  I polish off my drink and order another. 
            A song comes over the speaker with a female rocker who screams her way through the music and it’s the perfect anthem for the frustration I feel. It also magnifies the buzz from the first drink. I move with the beat and when the song is over a new drink is in front of me. I say out loud to anyone within earshot. “Just in the nick of time, I was starting to sober up.”  The bartender smiles before he moves down to the next customer. 
I look at the young set of customers starting to trickle in and resentment settles into the back of my throat. I remember seeing their hopeful expressions on my own face not so long ago. They have their whole lives ahead of them but time moves so much faster than any of them realize.  One day, they’ll wake up and wonder where the hell did their life go.  I stare into my Martini and I could feel hot tears begin to cloud my sight.  Damn place to be crying into my drink. I dab my eyes with the cocktail napkin, force myself to look up and smile to stop any more tears from making an appearance.  If anyone had been watching me, they might think I’m a bit mental, and at this very moment it didn’t feel too far from the truth. 
Gary, Mark, Richard and Joe enter the bar and settle into a nearby booth. That should be my cue to finish my drink and head home but I stay put. I do not want to rush the drink I have in front of me.  It might be awhile before I can treat myself again. I plan on saving every nickel and dime I make just in case Mary decides to let me go.  At this point, my life is a bit of a crapshoot and the job situation could go either way. 
A pop song comes over the speakers and the din of the bar picks up in volume as more people arrive. I sing along with the upbeat song to help raise my spirits. Brandon sidles up, sits at the end of the bar and starts to sing along with me at the top of his voice.  When the song is over, I laugh. It’s an absurd moment.
“You looked like you were having fun and I needed a little fun too.”  Brandon’s comment makes me laugh harder, if he only knew.  He laughs along with me. 
I finally ask. “Are you grabbing a drink with the guys?”
“I’ll go over there shortly. Do you mind if I keep you company?”
“Hmm, that might be equivalent to social suicide in these parts.” 
“I’ll send over a round to hold them over.”  He waves over the bartender, orders drinks for the guys before ordering himself a Guinness.
I sip my Martini. Avicci’s song ‘Wake Me Up’ plays, and we both listen to it. He stares into his glass of dark beer.  I listen too carefully and an onslaught of emotions washes over me. Brandon looks at me and sings some of the lyrics to me. “So wake me up when it's all over / When I'm wiser and I'm older.”
“Don’t wish to be older.  Wiser yes but not older. We’re all expected to forge ahead, no matter what life hands you. Make lemonade out of lemons.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“Right now all I see are lemons.”
Brandon gets the bartender’s attention again. “Next round for her, make it lemonade”. 
I look at the bartender. “Just top it off with some Absolute.”
Brandon adds. “Make that two lemonades with Absolute.”
“You haven’t even finished your beer.”
Brandon takes his glass and drinks down half his beer.  “It won’t be a problem.  What about you, you still have quite a full glass there.”
I drink half.  “Bring on the lemonade.”
We both watch the bartender mix our drinks. Brandon drinks down the remaining beer in his glass leaving some foam on his upper lip.  I want to reach over and wipe it away.  Instead, I gesture to his upper lip with my finger.  He swipes the back of his hand across his mouth to clear it off.  It reminds me of how young he really is and it leaves me feeling lonelier.
“Now you.  Your turn to finish that Martini.”  I oblige by finishing my drink.  The bartender puts our new drinks within reach and clears off the empty glasses.
“Okay before we drink our lemonade concoction, I need to use the men’s room.”
            I watch him saunter to the back of the bar to find the men’s room, like he doesn’t have a care in the world.  Brandon has his whole life ready to play out ahead of him.  I smile because just for a moment it’s sexy and full of possibilities. 
Gary walks over and sits on Brandon’s stool. My smile disappears.
“Whatcha doing Clara?”
            “Having a drink. You?”
            “Same.  What are we doing with our young friend Brandon?”  Gary takes a sip of Brandon’s drink and makes a sour face. “What the hell is that?”
A giggle slips out. “Just a little lemonade.”
He puts the drink down. “Just don’t get your hopes up, he’s engaged.” 
My face tightens. The dig hits its mark. “I’m not expecting anything from him. I don’t want anything from any of you boys.”
Gary’s eyebrows shoot up, surprised by the icy tone in my voice. He’s never seen me quite so direct. He doesn’t know what to make of me. 
When Brandon comes back, I excuse myself. “My turn.”  I slide off the high stool.  Once I feel steady I walk towards the back of the bar.  The two Martinis did the trick and I could feel the buzz slow down my pace.  I enter the nearest stall and empty my full bladder.  When I wash my hands, I catch my reflection.  My face is blotchy from crying, laughing and alcohol.  It’s time I went home. 
Brandon and Gary are talking intently.  I can see Brandon’s face smile, laugh and shake his head.  I could only guess what Gary is saying to him.  Once back I announce. “All right boys, I think I’m done for the night.”
Brandon says, “You can’t leave yet, we haven’t finished our drinks Clara.”
Gary stands up. “I think the lady’s had enough.”
I turn to Brandon. “You are absolutely right.  Let’s drink our lemonades, I think we deserve that at least.” I turn to Gary. “I think you have a table to get back to. Buh-bye.”
Gary doesn’t like being dismissed but he leaves without saying another word. I am thrilled at the small victory but really it’s the alcohol talking.    
Brandon says. “You just keep surprising me.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone put Gary in his place.”
             “I just don’t like him speaking for me.”
            I switch drinks so Brandon is drinking from the glass Gary tasted.  “Gary’s a tool.”
Brandon laughs.
“What’s so funny?” I ask.
“Gary was my roommate in college.  He helped me get this job.”
“Oh.”  I sip my lemonade.  It’s strong and sour but cold. It hits the right spot.
 “It’s all about connections in this industry.”
 “So what was he saying before I walked up?” 
Brandon drinks from his glass. “Warning me off.  Not to get entangled with you.”
“What makes him think that?” 
Brandon shrugs. “He’s seen us taking breaks together in the stairwell.”
“Does he know?  About you and Natasha?”
“You’re the only person I’ve told.”  He looks worn thin around the edges.
“You look tired.”
“I’m just starting to feel it.  I haven’t been sleeping.”
“Go home. Get some rest.”
Brandon shakes his head. “I don’t want to go home.  I was thinking of crashing at Gary’s tonight.”
“You can crash at my place.”  The words pop out before I stop myself. 
Brandon takes a long hard look at me before he says, “Okay. I’d like that.” He finishes his drink and sets the glass down.
He motions for the bartender for the check. I open my purse to pay for my drinks.  Brandon looks at me and says. “Put it away. I’m paying for all of them.”
I smile. “Thank you.” 
I try to peek at the bill but he says. “I mean it. No.”  Brandon hands over his American Express card and pays the tab.  He offers a hand to help me down from the high stool.  The last drink has my head swimming. I steady myself by holding onto the bar but I catch sight of Gary watching us. I pull my hand away.
As we take a cab uptown, I start to feel nervous at the prospect of bringing him back to my place. My place is a mess. Not to mention that I don’t actually have a couch that he could crash on.
It’s been a long time since I felt this kind of physical attraction to someone but I’m fooling myself to think he wants more. Brandon is so thin and young with a full head of hair. The men I’ve dated tended to be rounder with less hair on top of their heads and more hair everywhere else. I tell myself that he’s not coming over to have sex but I’m still nervous. 
“You’re coming over to my place just to sleep, right?”
Brandon is quiet on his side of the cab and he lets out a sigh. 
I thought his sigh meant that he just wanted to sleep and that I was complicating matters by asking the question. I speak softly. “If you’d rather not do this, I understand.”
Brandon slides his upper body towards my side and quietly replies. “If I didn’t want to come over to your place, I would have crashed at Gary’s.”  He reaches over and holds my hand.  “Have you changed your mind Clara?”
“I think I’m just sobering up.”
“Ah,” he says softly.  “If that’s the case, I can drop you off at your place, turn the cab around and head home.”
“When I offered you a place to crash, I meant only to sleep. I wasn’t expecting more.”  I feel the hot flush of embarrassment wash over my face and I’m grateful for the dark cab.
Brandon whispers.  “When a woman invites a man over to her place, it usually means the woman is receptive to his overtures.  If sex is off the table, tell me now.”  His directness takes me by surprise. 
I touch his face with the palm of my hand. He looks vulnerable but the shape of his mouth and the contours of his face are sensual. So beautiful. I want just for a moment to be  young and beautiful too. I kiss him softly.
I look into his shadowed face and tell him. “Yes, I want you.”
Brandon kisses me deeply. The nervousness tightens into desire. We part. He pulls my hand up to his lips and kisses the palm of my hand.  Who does that in real life? 
When the cab pulls up in front of my building I open my purse to pull out my wallet.  Brandon swipes his credit card to pay the cab fare. “Who have you been dating that you keep wanting to pay for everything?” 
I give him a crooked smile. “You don’t want to know.” 
I turn to open the cab door. “Don’t you dare touch that handle, just give me a minute,” Brandon grabs the taxi receipt, gets out of the cab a little unsteadily and walks around to open the car door for me.  He offers his hand as I step out of the cab.  “Now that’s the way it’s done.”   
I laugh.  I’m unsteady on my feet so his hand helps. I tease him. “Is this the part where you offer me your arm and escort me into my building?”
Brandon puts his arm around my shoulder instead. “This is the part where we lean on each other to stop from falling over.”
I manage to find my keys. Brandon laughs as I struggle with the heavy outside door of my building. “Boy, you’re drunk.”
Once in the lobby, I lean against the sidewall as we wait for the elevator.  “I wasn’t feeling this drunk in the cab.”
“It’s the cold air.  It doesn’t sober people up, it makes them feel how drunk they actually are.”
“You’re a bit of a know-it-all aren’t you?”
“It’s one of my more charming qualities.”
The elevator arrives and Brandon opens the door for me. “After you.”  I hit the 7 button, last floor in the building. 
Brandon jokes. “The penthouse?” 
I laugh. I move to the corner of the small elevator to help me stay upright.  Brandon corners me in, leans his body against mine and kisses me.  His hands travel up the sides of my body to my breasts where he squeezes them hard.  I like the strength of his touch.  I could feel his growing excitement against my body and I palm his erection only to feel him get harder under my touch. He groans.
The elevator doors opens, I take his hand and lead him to the door of my apartment.  He lifts my hair and playfully bites the back of my neck. It makes me gasp, a fine line between pleasure and pain. I open the door and flip on the dim foyer light. I realize my apartment is messier than I remembered.  Brandon takes off his jacket and hangs it on a hook by the door.  I start to say, “excuse the mess” but Brandon moves me up against the wall aggressively kissing my neck.  He makes quick work of pulling off my top.  I unbutton his shirt while he unbuttons the cuffs.  His shirt comes off and my hands go beneath his t-shirt to touch his smooth firm chest. He pulls off the t-shirt letting it drop to the floor. I take off my bra and press myself against him.  My hands trail down his trousers where I unbuckle his belt and open his pants so my hand has room to slip in.  He groans and kisses me hard. 
We start to sway, the alcohol heavy in our system. I stop and he grabs my hand. “Don’t stop.”
“Just to the bed. I don’t want us to fall over.”  We move closer to my bed each taking off our pants.  He stands at the edge of the bed in his black boxer briefs looking down at me. His look makes me self-conscious so I pull him down onto the bed, on top of me. He settles his face between my breasts. His mouth over the flesh of one of my nipples, he sucks hard.
I cry out.  He loosens his grip on my sensitive flesh.  His hands pull my thick legs up around his waist.  My hands move from his upper arms to his back.  He shifts, moves his hand down between my thighs. I am wet and his fingers slip inside of me and stay there without moving. 
Brandon watches me as I move my hips along his fingers and rub myself against his hand. He slips his hand out, pulls my panties off and I push down his briefs with my bare feet. He asks. “Do you have something?”
“No. You?”
“For Christ’s sake.”  Both feeling the heat of the moment slipping, I throw caution to the wind. “It’s fine.”
            Brandon pushes his body between my thighs and he guides himself inside of me. The first time a man penetrates me and fills me up is the single best moment whenever I have sex.  I tell him not to move for a second, I just want to savor the feeling.  I push my hips up to draw him deeper. 
Brandon doesn’t let me savor the moment too long because as soon as I push deeper against him, he pushes down hard against me.  He pumps hard and fast into me. He grunts as his body slaps against my flesh. I let him fuck me hard and when he finally comes he moans out, “slut” and it’s over. He collapses on top of me, to catch his breath, rolls off and stares at the ceiling. “I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just what I say.”
I don’t respond. A tear slides down the side of my face and I wipe it away.
“Did I hurt you?”
I lie. “I’m fine.”
“Let me see.”
I cover myself with a sheet. “You didn’t bruise me, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
He turns to face me and sees the tears. “Let me check.  I can be a brute sometimes.”
 I want to tell him that he hurt my feelings. Instead, I say. “It’s nothing.”
 “Don’t be that way.  I can’t deal with another passive aggressive woman right now.  I came here to get away from that.”
“What did you just say to me?”
Brandon clearly seeing the anger in my face. “I didn’t mean for it to go this way.”
“Wasn’t this all about you doing whatever you wanted to me? No holds bar.”
“Clara, I thought you and I could have a little fun after the last couple of weeks we’ve both had.”
“Are you having fun Brandon?”
His face closes up into a dark flat mask. “Far from it.” He gets up from the bed and starts to pick up his clothes from the piles we left on the floor.  I watch him get dressed and I see he’s trembling.  I don’t know if it’s from cold or anger but I take pity on him. I extend a hand and he takes it.  Brandon lets me pull him back down to the bed and he lies next to me. I wrap my arm around his chest but he’s stiff. I whisper in his ear. “This will pass.”
Brandon touches my arm never taking his eyes off the ceiling. “I didn’t want to hurt you Clara.”
            I let out a sigh. “I know.” The silence consumes the small space between us.
He turns and kisses me, a short quick papery kiss, where our lips are cold and dry against each other. “Will you be okay?”
I nod unable to answer.  He pulls himself off the bed and goes across the room to put his shoes on. I ask him.  “Do me a favor? Don’t tell Gary.”
            Brandon replies. “This stays between us.”
Brandon gets up and goes to use the bathroom.  I listen to him take a long drawn out piss.  When he comes back to the room, he looks around.  Just scans the room briefly. It doesn’t seem like he really sees anything and I realize he doesn’t really see me either.   
Brandon walks towards the door, grabs his jacket off the hook all without saying a word before he finally walks out. 
Once gone, I let out a deep breath.  I look across the room and see that it’s only 9:30 pm. I turn on the small lamp next to my bed and look around my small apartment. It really is a mess. Clothes are in small piles around the place, on the floor, over my desk chair. I have a week’s worth of mail and the New York Times covering my desk in the corner.  A layer of dust covers every surface since I can’t remember the last time I cleaned. There is a scent of sex permeating the air. I don’t recognize myself, this person in the middle of a dirty apartment allowing herself to be fucked and discarded.
Then something shifts. I grab a t-shirt from the floor, put it on only to realize it’s Brandon’s and I start to clean my apartment.  By midnight, I’m finished. I take a long hot shower and for the first time in a long time start to feel human again.

The End.

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