no light

She fidgeted herself awake.

It took her a moment to understand why her toes weren’t freezing, and why she’d felt overly warm under her duvet: Andrei’s socked feet had curled around hers, his right arm hung loosely around her hip.

Carefully, she lifted his arm and hedged out from under it. Her arms goose-pimpled as she quietly slipped out from under the duvet and padded out of the room.

His first thought as his eyes startled open was of consternation: he’d been so warm and comfortable, why was he even awake?

His second thought was that he was going to throttle her.

‘Wake up, pond muck’, she giggle-whispered.

His feet scrabbled for the duvet she’d pulled back, the cold instantly surrounding his feet and making him curl into himself to hold onto the warmth.

‘Don’t be wicked. Let me sleep’, he muttered-yawned.

The duvet slid further to the left, leaving half of him exposed to the cold.

‘Get up, Andrei!’

He lunged for the duvet just as she yanked it off him completely.

He tumbled onto the floor.

‘Shhh! You’ll wake the house’.

‘What the fuck, Achlys? Why are we even awake?’ he grumbled, dragging himself off the floor.

She pointed at the window behind him.

It was almost dawn, the inky sky about to break into a thousand shards of light. The ground was covered in snow.

Andrei and Achlys crept down the stairs, their socked feet soundless; shoes held in their hands.

‘Through the kitchen.’ Achlys prodded at the bottom of the stairs.

Andrei stilled. ‘Someone’s in the den’

‘No- ‘

‘No, listen-‘

‘It’s nothing. Let’s just go through the kitchen- it’s probably just mum…’

‘At half five? What would she be doing up so early?’ he asked, incredulously.

She ignored him, stalking into the kitchen and out of the side door.

Achlys made her way down the garden path, her delight in the snow-covered ground forgotten. She was annoyed with Andrei, irritated with his inability to just- for once- listen to her. To just let things go, to just let them be- always wanting to know why and how and why not. It was frustrating. Not everything has an explanation. Not everything needs one.

‘He’s like a bloody terrier- doesn’t let go of something once he catches a sniff of it’, she muttered to herself.

She kicked rather viciously at a pebble in her path.

Andrei caught up with her as she crossed into the woods. His breath puffing into the air, he silently handed her a hot flask.

They trudged through the snow, the moon still winking at them through the trees; the stars shining down. He lifted a branch out of her way and she ducked under it, making her way to the tree.

She came to a standstill in front of the tree. She dragged in a breath of icy air.

He reached for her hand without quite realising it.

The tree’s branches were caked with snow, its thin arms reaching up and out, up and out; almost touching the moon and the stars.

The Earth was shouting out her secrets.

Achlys’ hand tightened around his.

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:::::Sophie- don’t fuck with me.

 

 

I plopped on the bed and kicked my heels off, indulging in a donut. I looked straight across the room into James’s black eyes, smirking while I chewed.

James stared back at me, defeated, and a bit paranoid, as if a piano may fall on him. Then, he exhaled deeply, and laid his head back on the backrest of the plush chair he was sitting on, kicking his feet up on an ottoman.

“Can we call this even now?” he asked nasally.

“Why’d you do it, James? Why’d you steal Betty and leave me all on my own?”

James sighed.

“You wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

“Try me,” I said, throwing the gooey donut at his face.

He sat up and angrily swatted the donut off his nose, the jelly left behind looking like more smeared blood.

“You know what, Sophie? If you’d have had some fucking patience, we’d be in a much better situation right now. But no. You had to go and look all heroic and drag me back to your little hen circle like a prized Elk.”

I stood up and walked up to him, my hands clenched into well practiced fists.  He stood up as well, prepared to actually hit back this time. We stood seething face to face- both of us at our wits end with each other.

I raised my fist, he raised his.

I unclenched my hand and brought my fingers into a relaxed shape, bringing my other hand up to cup his face.  I looked up at him and still admired his long eye lashes that framed his dark brown eyes.  I stood on my toes to bring my face closer to his.

As my hands traced his jaw bone, he relaxed and closed his eyes. He opened them again to see if I was bringing my nose into his.  I traced his cheek bone with my thumb…. just before digging my index finger violently into the broken bridge of his nose, bringing him to instant tears, and forcing a shriek of pain from him. As he recoiled and positioned himself to backhand me, I followed up my  statement with a swift kick to his balls.  He forgot about his nose, and grabbed the twins, sitting back down on his chair, searching for breath.

 

I skipped back to the bed and plopped down again, biting into a new doughnut.

“Let’s try this again James. Why’d you leave me and steal Betty?”

karen // reflections on “fate”

karen // reflections on “fate”

I didn’t want to leave Ryan´s hotel room. For one, it was way off the Strip and would be a hefty cab ride home. For two, something had changed, and I wanted to see what it was.

In any case, I had to get back to the girls, and he had plans, so I’d reluctantly found a cab and started to head back to the hotel.

Vegas looks different in the light of day — less a glittery, sparkly city that begs for high rollers, high heels, and high expectations and more like the aftermath of a drunken, debaucherous party — dirty, pale in the sunlight, and grimy. Like any other city.

Not entirely surprising. Most things look different during the day. Like Ryan.

As the cab makes its way through the city, I remember the light on his body this morning before my phone rang. In the daylight, it was skinner, paler than I remember. His features, too, were almost too sharp to be considered really attractive. Even his dick didn´t look quite as enticing in that light.

But when he woke up to the sound of my ringing phone, I forgot all of my critiques.

“What do you do?” I’d asked him after my phone had died and I´d crawled on top of him.

He smiled. “Can I answer you in about 20 minutes?” I smiled back, nodding as he rolled me over.

Approximately 20 minutes later, he answered. “I work for a non-profit that helps impoverished families buy homes. I work on the design end.”

“Ah, so you´re a Democrat?” I teased. “In bed with a Republican politico? What would your boss say?”

“She’d say, ‘way to infiltrate the enemy camp and plant the idea of affordable housing to families who’ve fallen on hard times,'” he answered without cracking a smile. I raised an eyebrow at him until he gave a small smile of concession. “Look, Karen, the world isn’t just made up of Democrats and Republicans. There are plenty more  viewpoints that fall on either side. You need to stop seeing people like they’re all on different teams. The lines are too fuzzy to define people that way.”

I looked down as he reached to the bedside table for his pack of cigarettes. “That’s not how I see things.”

I waited while he lit, inhaled, passed me the pack. I shook my head.

“Look, I know we don’t talk much. Whatever this is, it’s slightly more carnal than intellectual, but every time we do talk, you’re either bashing on the people you work for, or the people your bosses are fighting against, all the while trying to act like you’re above all of them.”

His words stung a bit, but he said it laughingly, so I laughed with him, and reached for the cigarettes he’d left on the nightstand. “I don’t actually think I’m better than anyone. I just don’t like politics.”

“So why do you work in politics then?”

I sighed. “Because, I couldn’t get another job, and it’s this of pouring coffee or hanging up clothes all day.”

“Are you looking for something else?”

“I don’t have the time.”

He laughed. “If you were as miserable as you say you are and hate it as much as you say you do, you’d find time. I would, anyway.”

I didn’t answer, opting instead to smoke my cigarette and look out the window.

He sighed, took a lighter tone as he smashed out his cigarette. “So what next? What comes after the great Vegas road trip?”

I laughed. “Back to work, I guess.” I finished my cigarette, smashed it out, noting how for the first time since taking up smoking that I didn’t feel like an awkward idiot. “Maybe looking for a new job.”

“Not a terrible idea.” Glancing at the clock, he added, “I hate to do this, but I’ve gotta meet my buddy for lunch in an hour. Think you can find your friends?”

I nodded, took my cue, and got ready to leave. After I’d pulled on my smoky-smelling black dress and stepped into my heels, he pushed me back against the wall and said, “Nice coincidence.” I nodded, putting my arms around his neck while he gave his usual farewell, “Text me when you’re in Portland next.” And when he kissed me, it was different — more intense, a bit more intimate. I felt weak at the knees.

At the thought of that kiss, I smile and look from the cab window to my knees. Usually, when I’d left Ryan’s before, there was always a bit of dismay in the pit of my stomach. But now, it’s not there — there’s something else there.

His concern over my work situation helps to put things in perspective: I’m unhappy. Entirely, totally unhappy. Granted, I’d figured that much out myself, but I never saw that my unhappiness led to the pessimism that seems to have taken over my life. And I couldn’t really see the solution in front of my face — quit. Quit. Never go to another political rally. Never see Jeremiah and his grabby hands again. Never set food in the Capitol building.

Simple enough. Now I just need a plan.

But things will work out, I’m sure of that much. If, after weeks without seeing him, hundreds of miles away from where we normally spend our time together, we can find each other — then surely everything will work out for me.

For this first time in months, I feel hopeful, I think as I step out of the cab, wallet much lighter than it was when I stepped into it.

I’m smiling, oblivious to the ambiance around me, as I waltz into the lobby and onto the elevator.

“Someone got happy last night,” a voice says behind me, a mocking smile in her tone. When I look up, I see Sophie looking at me, a cup of coffee in one hand, a box of donuts in the other. “Looks like you could use a sugar rush. Donut?”

valencia // breakdown

“You don’t have to do this,” James said, as I came back to the bed with a wet cloth. He lowered the ice and gently I pressed the cloth to his face, wiping the blood from his skin.

“I don’t mind,” I said, smiling gently. He returned the smile and I found it hard to resist his charm. He must have mastered the art – with his good looks and strong jaw… and his body. We still hadn’t figured out why he was lying in Sophie’s bed in his underwear and why he didn’t have any clothes lying around but I didn’t mind at all. He was sexy. I’d been in a serious relationship since I was sixteen and still a virgin. I’d only slept with one person. No wonder this sexy, rough, and bloody stranger made me feel so hot. I was free from my boyfriend for the first time in seven years. Who cares if he hypothetically belonged to Sophie? I barely knew her. What did I care?

Darcy stormed back into the hotel room from the balcony.

“I need a fucking cigarette,” she said. “V?”

I looked over my shoulder at her, feeling James’ eyes on me as I turned away from him. “I’m out,” I told her. “Sorry, Darce.”

“Fuck,” she said, looking at James. “You? You have any?”

“I don’t smoke,” he said. “Sorry.”

“God damn it. You’re useless,” Darcy said, pointing an accusatory finger at him. “I hope that naked man in my bed has more than just condoms in his pockets. V, wait here for Sophie and… hopefully Karen.”

“Sure,” I nodded, as she hurried out of the room and slammed the door shut behind her. I turned back to James, bringing the cloth back to his face. He was still smiling.

“How do you girls know Sophie?” he asked, shifting his weight and coming in closer to me.

“We don’t really,” I confessed. He laughed. “Sophie was with Darcy and Karen. I met them last night. They needed a ride and I needed help paying for a hotel room. Voila. Problem solved.”

“You’re all sharing a hotel room and you don’t know anything about each other?” he asked.

“Worse things could have happened,” I said, wiping the last of the blood off of his face. “It seems like you’re the one who should be questioning your involvement with Sophie. We aren’t the ones who got punched in the face.”

He laughed again and shook his head. “Well, I deserved what I got,” he said. “I am, however, slightly concerned that she might have drugged me or something and who knows what she did once I was out. You don’t remember seeing me here last night?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Sorry.” I smiled at him. “I wish I remembered you.”

He smiled and reached up, gently brushing his fingers under my chin.

“A pretty girl like you,” he said. “You should be more careful in a city like this.”

Oh my God, my head just dropped right to my crotch. His eyes were absolutely…

“Ahem.”

Broken from my trance by the sound of her voice, I whipped my head to the right to see that Sophie had just stepped into the room. Right behind her stood my boyfriend, Caleb, who I hadn’t seen since my graduation party a few days before. In his hand he held a leash which was attached to the dog that I’d completely forgotten about and had apparently misplaced.

“Look who I found in the hallway,” she said. “I recognized the dog but not the boy. Turns out that they know each other. Weird.”

I pushed away from James and came to my feet, making eye contact with Caleb. He was angry, I could see it in his eyes. I didn’t blame him. Not only had I disappeared from San Francisco without an explanation but he’d called me for an answer and I’d just hung up on him and now he walked into a hotel room in Las Vegas to find me in a bed with my face six inches away from a sexy naked man.

“Caleb…” I said, stepping towards him. “How…”

“Not here, Cia,” he said, nodding to James and Sophie, who had walked across the room to set a box of donuts and four coffees on the table beside the window.

“Okay,” I nodded. “Sophie, I’ll just…”

“Sure thing, Cia,” she said, nodding. “Do what you need to do.”

I stepped forward and gently touched Caleb’s forearm to lead him out of the room. He pulled away from me and it tore my heart in two. As we stepped into the hallway, it sounded as if Sophie might have punched James in the face again but I couldn’t concern myself with that anymore. I shut the door and looked up to my boyfriend. I’d been away from him for so long and had put my mind on so many different things, that I’d allowed myself to forget how much I loved him. Just seeing his face again made me feel safe. His messy hair, his brown eyes, the lips that I loved kissing. Tears came to my eyes as I realized how badly I had treated him over the past few days.

“Cia, don’t,” he said. “Don’t even start. After what you did to me, and to your aunt and your sister… that’s not fair. Don’t give me that.”

“Caleb, I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I don’t even know what I was thinking…”

“Damn right, you don’t!” he cried, dropping the loop of Charlie’s leash around the door knob of Sophie’s room. “What the hell are you doing, Cia? What are you trying to prove? Look at you! You look like shit… like a two dollar hooker. And who the hell was that guy?”

“He’s no one! I just met him, I was just…”

“You’re throwing our relationship away over no one?!” he cried.

“No, Caleb… I’m not…” I started but I lost my breath as a sob overtook my composure. I inhaled sharply and looked up at him through my tears. “I’m going through something… and I don’t… I don’t…” I covered my face with my hands as I started sobbing again. I couldn’t find my words or the explanation that I needed to give him. I wasn’t so sure that I even had one. Although I’d had a purpose when I first headed towards Las Vegas, it seemed like I’d let the night get away from me and I’d lost my way.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Cia. After you called me from a bar in Oregon and then hung up on me, I spent the whole night worrying about you. And then at 4 o’clock this morning I get a call from a hotel manager in Las Vegas because my dog has been found wandering the halls alone. They were going to throw him in the pound so thank God that he had my phone number on his tags because who the hell knows what kind of state you were in to have lost him in the first place. What choice did I have but to get on a plane and come rescue him from whatever shit storm you’d created?” he yelled.

“Caleb, I’m sorry! I can’t say that again. I’m just… I’m looking for my mom. I need to find her,” I said. “This is what this has been about and I just… I met these friends and… it felt good to let go a little bit and stop thinking about it for just one night.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at me. “And you couldn’t come to me for that, Cia? I know more about your relationship with your mom than anyone else and you couldn’t trust me enough to talk to me about this?”

I sighed softly and wiped my eyes again. I shook my head. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Caleb,” I said. “But our whole relationship is framed around my mom’s illness and I just…” I sighed deeply and looked at my boyfriend, unable to stop myself from crying. “I don’t even know what you’re doing here. Why do you keep going through this with me? I’m just like her.”

Caleb sighed and reached for me. “Cia… I’m here because I love you,” he said. “Okay? You’re not making any sense right now but you’re not anything like your mother. Look at me.” He hooked his finger underneath my chin, just like James had done just ten minutes earlier. The difference this time was that the eyes looking into mine were genuine. Caleb was everything that I had, he was my past and my future, my forever. I had put him through all of this and for what? I was chasing a ghost through the desert. My mother wasn’t dead but she was nothing more than a memory to me. It’d been so long since I’d seen her. What was I looking for?

“You’re stronger than she ever was, Cia,” he said, brushing his fingers against my cheek. He was saving me from myself again, just like he always did. He’d been saving me since I was sixteen years old. He pulled me into his arms and he kissed my forehead gently. “And because of that, you’re going to get yourself out of this mess and finish whatever it is that you’ve started here, okay?”

I nodded, burying my face into the comfort of his t-shirt. He smelled like home. Safe and familiar.

“Okay,” I said.

“I booked a room on the first floor,” he said. “148. When you’ve said good bye to your… friends… and after you get your shit together, I’ll be downstairs with Charlie waiting for you.” He was still frustrated with me, I could hear it in his voice but at least he was holding me. At least I still had that.

Karma Vigilantes Part II

 

I didn’t give him much time to really reply. I had him by the ear and was leading him out of the house.

By the time we’d gotten to the front door where the bouncers stood, I’d had my story planned.  “It’s ok boys, he likes it rough. He told me. He also offered me an extra five grand if we can do it at his place. I feel safe though. We’ll just take his car.”

I looked at James with a glare. He caught my drift, still holding his bleeding nose, and nodded at them.  They looked at James, then at me. I gave a confident smug and an eyebrow raise.

One of him held his finger up and talked to the other for a moment. After about thirty seconds of chatting it over, he stepped away, pulling out a cell phone. The conversation looked like it took about four spoken words. He nodded and hung up. He walked back over to us.

“She says it’s good. She takes an extra fifteen percent of this one, and I go with you, just to make sure.”

James and I looked at each other. We knew there wasn’t a much easier way out of this one, and we knew between the two of us, we could ditch this guy if we needed to.

The three of us made our way out to Betty. The large black man stepped into a sleek black Mercedes. James pulled Betty’s keys out of his vest pocket. I snatched them from his hand and punched him in the face again. He cried out. “Smile, you fucking asshole, and act like you like it.”

James turned and looked at the Mercedes with a bloody face, giving a tearful, yet enthusiastic thumbs-up to the bouncer.

We got into Betty and I fired up her engine. The relief hit me like sanctuary, and tears filled my eyes. I closed my eyes and listened to her purr. James sniffed in pain in the passenger seat.  I shifted into reverse, and in the act of looking behind me, I smoothly, yet tactfully managed to throw a good elbow shot into James’s face again before backing out and speeding down the hill back toward the strip.

We didn’t say a word the entire way back to the hotel.  With the Mercedes hot on our heels, I turned the stereo up, letting my music wrap it’s arms around me. James used one of his t shirts to cradle his face on the way back, keeping his head back to stop the nose bleed.

When we got back to the hotel, James and I pulled into the underground parking garage, using my suite key as entrance. The Mercedes pulled in directly behind us. I saw a black hand stick out the window using another card that gave equal access. My hopes of ditching this guy again were dashed.

We parked and I got out of the car. I walked around to the passenger side and opened the door. James looked up at me, his sorry eyes begging for mercy.

“Oh no. We’re not done yet, motherfucker.”

I watched the Mercedes park and gauged how much time I had before the bouncer heard my words.

“You fucking left me. You left me in Los Angeles. Alone. With nothing. And you took my car!” I slapped him again across the face, and followed it up with a stiletto heel stomp on his foot, and repeated the slap.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’M SORRY! OUCH! Fuck Sophie, I’m fucking sorry!”

I heard the door slam shut on the Mercedes, followed by an alarm beep.

“Look like you like it, ass whipe.”

James turned his moan into one that somewhat resembled ecstasy.

“I’m the boss, bitch!” I said, dragging him by his ear to the elevator. I looked back at the bouncer and winked. He smiled and shook his head, following us into the elevator.

When we reached our floor, I heard the craziness in our room from down the hall. I knew James and I would get the privacy we needed.

I opened the door to our suite to blasting music and Darcy riding Cia around rodeo style. She hopped off Cia and ran to greet us.

“Sophie! Heeeey, everyone! Sophie’s here! Oooohhh!” Darcy sized up James, but quickly looked past him to the towering black, tux clad Adonis behind us.

“My God… She has come bearing gifts…”

Darcy’s eyes dialated, her lower lip wobbled as she took in the bouncer from head to toe.

I smiled at the bouncer before dragging James into the private lounge of the suite. I caught a glimpse of Darcy putting a cowboy hat on her head and jumping on the bouncer before closing the frosted glass french doors on the party in the main living room.

James had some explaining to do.

 

 

and now I’m downstairs. Just thought I’d catch you all up on what has gone down. I’ve got a dozen donuts and some coffee. I’m heading back up in a minute. From the looks of things, everyone got along well with Darrel the bouncer.  I should probably get back before they wake up. I think I’m the only one that’s not going to be hurting this morning.

 

 

::::Sophie

Karma Vigilantes

it’s been a while since I could update.   If anyone’s out there in the void, I’m sorry about that.

SORRY VOID.

Somehow I ended up here. In the lobby of a hotel somewhere in Vegas.  I don’t even know the place of where I’m at.   Of course when you’re completely on the run from your life, you tend to lose track of details.

The important details now are as follows:

Last night: Darcy happened.  Yes. Darcy happened all over the damn place.  Immediately upon rolling into town, she hit up the first slots she found, and hit a jackpot.  An eight hundred dollar jackpot.  What did this mean?  It meant putting us all up on a suite, Darcy acting like a kid in a candy store at the liquor mart, and a hundred dollars in my hand to get some new clothes.  “Seriously. You look like shit, Soph.  This isn’t for you, I just don’t want to be seen with you like that anymore. It’s really depressing.”

Shopping in a hotel gift store in Vegas, however, never tends to yield any good results. Nevertheless, I managed to shed the Valentino rags off myself and get into a new black number that fit right, held my boobs up, and didn’t smell like sand, sweat, and regret. I also used the extra cash to hit up the salon. I figured after a month of looking and smelling like shit, and since I didn’t actually use my own credit cards, I was allowed a refresher.  three hours later, with fresh highlights and professional make up, I stepped into the Vegas night as a new woman. I was prepared for the things that might happen to me as I once again donned a black dress. (including being mistaken as an escort.)

Armed with a hotel key of my own, and determination to find Betty, I was unstoppable.   James told me to meet him here. I was on a mission to find the little shit who left me stranded in LA….

First visit: Roulette table at Caesar’s.  Found a good looking guy in a suit with beautiful women standing next to him.  Walking up I gingerly moved them aside and whispered in his ear.  He turned to me and sized me up. Deciding I was legitimate, he leaned over and whispered an address into my ear. I nodded and walked straight out with renewed determination.   Catching a glance of myself in the large wall mirrors as I headed out of the casino, reality managed to catch up to me for just a second. It was long enough to stop me in my tracks.

I stood looking at myself, putting together the adventure I’d gone on, mentally comparing the life I left behind a couple months ago to the person I had become in this amount of time. I realized for the first time in my life, my future was not planned out beyond the next few hours. I didn’t worry about what anyone else in my life thought of me. I had no cares as to my reputation or what consequences my actions might yield.  I realized, I only cared about those who cared about me, who didn’t judge me but supported me, even if it meant telling me I looked like shit. My entire list of priorities was centered around getting my car back and continuing on a journey with a pack of hopeless Karma Vigilantes.  Moments flashed through my head illustrating things like my college graduation…force smiles in a cap and gown and a disgusting realization I would be paying back student loans I didn’t want in the first place for a degree I didn’t want in the first place for a job I never wanted in the first place for a life I didn’t want in the first place. All for people who thought it was the best for me. All for people who loved me so hard, they truly believed I would thank them for my misery one day.

I’d spent enough time on that thought and moved on. Out the doors in to the hot Vegas night, haling a cab.  I stated the address to the driver before I forgot it. He looked at me in his mirror and nodded.

The ride lasted longer than I thought it would. We left the strip and drove out to the houses. One nice house after another, smooth, blocky, swanky glass and custom lighting. We pulled up to the driveway. The driver smiled at me.

“How much?” I asked, reaching for the cash tucked into my bra. “I’ll just add it to the account,” he said.

“ok…” I said. I stepped out of the car and straightened my dress. I looked around and saw the strip twinkling at me from below. The house was on the ridge looking out, cars lining the driveway.   My eyes stopped at the freshly waxed, shiny, newly restored ’94 Porsche. Betty smiled back at me.   I walked over to her and looked inside, spotting the Betty Boop air freshener.  It looked like we both got new dresses.

Bass beat boomed from the inside of the house. Most likely a party.

I walked through the front door, met by two bouncers. Large black men in well fitted black suits stopped me. They looked me over and I returned a glance that said “I pay your salary.” They nodded and let me by.

Instantly, I was surrounded by women my age. Gorgeous, classic, rich. They laughed, held their delicate cocktails and smiled energetically. They moved their eyes slowly, showcasing their lashes and full lips. They stood delicately, as if made of glass. They floated from one conversation to another. There were about four women to every tuxedo clad man.    I knew which one I was looking for.

I made my way to the back yard. the pool glowed, making everyone seem modern and magical.  I followed the cigar smoke to the pool house. The women gathered around him, entranced by the story he was telling. He boastfully regaled them with his heroic tale of saving a poor girl he’d met in New Orleans from a car jacker.

“That’s not quite the way I remember it.”  I made my way through the designer gowns and stood in front of him. I crossed my arms as I looked down at him, donning a fresh Hugo Boss tux, shiny shoes, looking comfortable and a bit tipsy in a poolside lounger. As I emerged from the crowd, his face softened in relief and recognition.

He rose, the women parting, looking at me in awe, as if seeing a love story unfold.

He took a step toward me. I looked up at him, realizing I’d missed that face of his. I wanted to touch his hair now that I knew it was clean.  I’d forgotten how tall he was and that he loomed over me. I’d also forgotten how good he looked in a clean tux.   He reached out, brushing the strands of hair off my forehead that had grown damp with the light sweat from the hot Nevada night air.

“Hello Moneypenny,” he softly said, looking into my eyes, leaning in for a kiss.

“Hello James,” I replied, meeting his face with my fist.

:::Sophie

karen \\ if there’s a rocket tie me to it

I came here to run away. I was refugee, just like the other ninety percent of Las Vegas tourists. I was fleeing the scenes of the crimes I’d committed against myself and those against any sense of decency I’d ever had. I was only looking for peace.

And instead I found him. He texted me this time. The first time he’d ever texted me.

We were drinking in the hotel room, taking whiskey shots. We’d given Sophie some money for a new outfit, and Valencia — Cia, as she liked to be called, was clutching a drink in one hand and her dog in the other. Darcy, of course, played bartender, pouring more than we asked for. “Drink your water, children, it’s good for you!” she kept saying.

My phone vibrated. I ignored it for over an hour, figuring it was only the ex, or the fling, or the boss. Only when I took it out to check the time later did I see his name, Ryan, on the screen.

hey sarah palin, you in portland next weekend?

Terrible nickname aside, I was pleasantly taken aback.

maybe. i’ve taken a detour and ended a bit south of the norm. i’ll let you know?

The words were drunkenly slurred onto the screen. Inside, there was a part of me that was beaming. I tried not to let it show.

By the time Darcy was dancing around the room in her underwear, I’d received another text.

roger that. i’m in vegas for the weekend. a buddy’s bachelor party. let me know your plans. missing that birthmark on your hip.

I laughed out loud. I pretended that I´d just taken a photo of Darcy. The rest of them were so drunk they hardly realized it.

We decided to meet up. There was a club off the strip, I guided the girls there. Inside, the music was blaring, the girls started dancing, and I started looking.

And now I’m here. It’s been well over 27 minutes since we had sex, and he still hasn’t asked me to leave.

Darcy’s phone call this morning wasn’t unexpected. I remembered programming the alarm into her phone, and I remembered telling her that I was leaving. She’d been kissing a large, really attractive black guy, so she’d given me the brush off, “Yeah, yeah, got it. Get it, girl.”

I have my head on his chest. His fingers stroke my hip, right where my birthmark is.

“Your friends?” he asks, sleep in his voice. I look up. His eyes are still closed.

“Yeah.”

“You gotta leave?”

“Sounds that way. Dunno where to meet them, though. Phone died.”

“Better stay a bit then.”

I’m happy to, I think to myself. I push myself up to look at him, smiling through my pieces of hair in my eyes. I kiss him, then pull away.”

“Ryan?” I look at him quizzically.

He opens his eyes, a small smile playing in the corner of his mouth. “Karen?”

“What do you do?”