Moment Before Forever

“What’s your pick of the day?” I asked.  Tom looked up from his notebook and smiled as I placed his usual, a mocha with an extra shot of coffee, before him.

“I’d give you the keys to the kingdom if I had them, Maggie dear. That delectable gap between your front teeth framed by that curly, red hair!” Tom said and sucked in a breath of appreciation.  He took a sip of the mocha and sighed contentedly.  “There’s a nano-tech firm out of M.I.T.”  He looked around conspiratorially.  “This group could rule the world.  Since I live on this world, I’m putting my money with them.”  He wrote the name of the firm on a napkin and slid it over to me.

“Will this make me fabulously wealthy so I can pay off Jo’s debts and not have to serve coffee anymore?” I asked.

Tom trapped the napkin under his fingers.  “You won’t serve me anymore?  Perhaps I was a bit hasty.”  He pulled the napkin back toward him.

“If I promise to get your coffee, will you let me see it?”  I gave him my best smile.

He thought it over for a moment, shrugged and released the napkin.  “Keys to the kingdom, my dear.  Keys to the kingdom.  Bring me whatever Joline’s crazy about back there.”  He pointed toward the café.

The man made each day feel like it was worthwhile.  I patted him on the shoulder and headed back to Joline, stopping by my customers on the way.

“Everything okay here?” I asked at Diane’s table.

“Tell my sister that this neighborhood is perfectly safe,” Diane insisted.

“This neighborhood is perfectly safe,” I said matching Diane’s intonation.

“Diane’s got you trained, huh?”  Her sister snorted.  “I wouldn’t live in Manhattan if you paid me.”

“You couldn’t afford to live here unless somebody paid you,” Diane said.  The women laughed.

“I’ve never really thought much about it, but I do feel safe,” I said.

“See!” Diane said.

“You two need anything else?”

“No, we’re just going to sit here and take up one of your tables.”

“Thank god!  You never know who might decide to stop here if there were an open table,” I said.

The three of us shared a laugh and I stepped inside of the café.  I walked around the display cases to Joline.  “What’s the best thing you made today?”

“The cinnamon bun,” Joline said without hesitation.  “Wait.  For Tom?”  I nodded.  Joline cut a slice of a scrumptious quiche and placed it in the toaster oven.  “This is better for him.  Besides, it is the best thing I made today.”  I had to wait for the toaster anyway so I did dishes.

“He give you his hot tip?”  I handed her the napkin.  Joline read the name and spiked it on a receipt spike piled high with napkins and odd pieces of paper.  The name “Tom” was taped to the base.  “Has he ever been wrong?”

“I’m still working here,” I said.  “I wouldn’t bother if he weren’t so nice.”

“You ‘bother’ because things financial are your blood.  You don’t see me checking my phone every chance I get for the latest on the Asian markets.”

“That’s cuz I don’t get off baking and serving coffee.”

“At least I’m doing what I love,” Jo said.  We had both drawn blood.  I grabbed the hot quiche slice out of the oven, slammed it on a plate, and hurried back outside giving Joline a wide berth.  I could see regret on Jo’s face but I was way too irritated to do anything about it.

I plopped the plate in front of Tom with a little less care and less of a smile than he deserved.  The quiche threatened to spill over onto Tom’s lap.  “What’s the matter, Maggie blue?” Tom asked with a tease of Irish brogue as he pressed the warm pie back onto the plate with his fork.

“It’s just that…some of life’s lessons are harder than others…”  I didn’t know why I said that but it felt good just to talk.

“That they are.  And let me give you another tip of the day…they don’t get any easier with age.”

“You had everything!  You did arbitrage in the heart of business in the heart of the world.  I’m just a waitress who only has a job because her friend owns the café.”

Tom studied me and smiled.  “You are an incredible young woman whose smile is the heart of the world.”  Embarrassed, I shook my head but couldn’t suppress a smile.  “Don’t you shake your head at me.  I’ve worked in the heart of the business in the…whatever you said.”  That got the first good laugh of the day from me.

“That laugh!  That’s why I come here.”

“The quiche is on me,” I said.

“The way you served it, it was almost on me,” Tom said with a laugh.

I smiled and meandered back through the tables.  The day seemed a little nicer, the sun a little sunnier.  I bused the empty tables and made my way back to the display case.  There stood Larry.  My world dimmed just a little bit.

“How you doing, Maggie?” Larry asked.

There was nothing wrong with Larry.  He was good looking, attentive, and courteous but…there was a but that I could not define.

“Good.  And you?”  I slid behind the counter with my tray full of cups and dishes.  It took me a little longer than necessary to drop them off into the wash basin before turning around.

“Just great!  What are you guys pimping today?”

“Cinnamon buns are to die for,” Joline said.  I stepped beside Jo, forgetting the previous tension, and presenting a solid front of sisterhood to an invading male.  She stepped away to wash dishes leaving me to deal with Larry.  So much for solidarity.

“How about a cinnamon bun and a medium red eye?” Larry asked with a wink.

Medium!  I thought, That’s the problem.  Larry is stuck somewhere in the middle.

“Sounds good,” I said.

“I’ll get them,” Jo said and stepped between me and my escape route.

“Grab a table and I’ll bring it out,” I said.

I could feel his eyes trace the outline of my body I had so carefully tried to hide inside bulky clothing.   It made me want to run away but when I looked at him again, his eyes were riveted on mine.  “I’ll just wait here,” he said.  I stood there feeling awkward and alone.

“How have you been, Maggie?” he asked.

“Good.  Everything’s been good.”

“There’s a new play at the Union Square Theater.  Have you seen it?”

“I don’t get out much.”

“Went to the premiere.  It was so good I was thinking of seeing it again…”

I noticed that the bun and the coffee were done and grabbed them.

“I could probably score a couple…” he started.

“Here you go,” I said cheerfully and pushed the plate and the cup and saucer in his direction.

“I didn’t mean to…I just think you would love this play.”

“I know, Larry.  I’m just not in a place right now to…I really appreciate…” I said trying to find something that would politely back away from the invitation and stop the talk before Jo heard it.

“She’d love to, Larry,” Jo said.  “You pick the performance and she’ll be there with bells on.”

“Jo?!” I sputtered.

“Would you go into the back and get some more disposable cups and lids?” she asked me and smiled at Larry.

I stared at my friend in disbelief.  For all of the wonderful things she had done for me, Joline had just crossed a line.  “I’ll decide when I’m ready to go out and with whom,” I muttered to myself as I stomped into the storage room which had what passed for an office stuffed into it.

As I reached for the cups, I took a look at the full length mirror stuck to the back of the door.  I stopped and assessed my reflection.  Long, reddish-brown hair carelessly curled past my shoulders.  Clothes, New York black, draped on my frame like someone had sorted the wash into a vaguely feminine-shaped pile.  I shook my head and waved a hand at my mirrored image hoping it would disappear.  “If I’m ever ready to date,” I said softly.

I shook off the feeling of inadequacy that threatened to constrict me like some gigantic, man-eating snake from the Amazon.  I turned to the heavens.  “Is it asking too much for just one break?”  I gave the heavens a moment in case they were inclined to answer.  They weren’t.

I grabbed plastic wrapped lengths of cups in small, medium and large, and a box of lids and made sure there were plenty of mediums for Larry.  After getting the load balanced properly, I reached to turn off the light and noticed certificates and diplomas hung on the wall over the tiny desk.  On the desk, a mostly empty cardboard box with Margaret Doullen scrawled over it in indelible ink crowded Jo’s laptop off to the side.

I stepped closer.  It was my stuff.  MY STUFF!  I raged.  I dropped the supplies on the floor and yanked one certificate after another off the wall and crammed them back into the box.  My diploma from NYU, certificates for summer internships at various brokerage houses and banks, and, finally, my diploma from the MBA program at the Wharton School.  I held the last between trembling hands for a moment and fought tears that threatened to sizzle their way down my red hot cheeks.

Just as I carefully slipped the last diploma into the box, Jo walked in.  “I thought you were a victim of a coffee cup landslide,” she said.  I watched Jo’s eyes look at the empty wall and the box.


“Don’t, Jo.  Just…don’t.”  I thought about leaving it there and took a quick step toward the door but stopped in front of my friend.  “Why?  Why do you do this to me?”

“You’re the one who should be doing it.  You should have neon signs proclaiming your education.   Wharton?!  If I had an MBA in Business and Finance from Wharton, I wouldn’t be schlepping coffee…”

“Are you kidding?” I asked.  “You started this business from nothing and turned into something that not only supports you but your poor friends like me.  This place has your heart in it.  You can feel it beat.”  I almost pulled off my apron and quit on the spot.  It was the most concrete feeling I had experienced in a long time.  I felt like stripping off my clothes, hacking my hair short, and dancing through the streets letting the cool breeze and the looks of passersby bathe me.  But my friend’s sad face stopped me cold.

“Maggie.  I wouldn’t have gotten through undergrad school without you.  You’re the reason this…” she opened her arms wide in the crowded room, “…exits.”

I shook my head in denial.  The tears threatened again and I turned my face up to stop their flow.  “Every time…”  The words sputtered uncontrollably.  I fought my inner shame and tried again.  “I put my foot in the door and it was slammed on me.”  The indignation roiled.  It scratched at the inside of my skin begging for release.

“If you’re going to bring up the Luther Brothers Group again, I don’t know what to do.  You need to be working downtown in one of those big glass buildings and having coffee brought to you.  You shouldn’t be waiting every morning for Tom to give you his next sure thing; you should be investing a big firm’s assets in the next big thing you found on your own.”

“He said that I had no business applying for Mergers and Acquisitions.  I simply wasn’t good enough to even think of working in their precious company.”

“Who said that?” Jo asked.  “That H-R clown?  That Vice-President in charge of pretention?  Come on, Maggie.  It’s time to flex your muscles.  Get out and do something.”

“Like go to a play with Larry?!”

“What’s wrong with that?  If the play’s as good as he says…”

“That’s not the point.”

“No,” Joline said.  “The point is the sun still rises and sets and you hide your glorious head in the sand.  Besides, bad luck in business does not equal bad luck in love.”

“What the hell does that mean?” I asked.

“It means get your cute little butt in the game.  The team needs you.”

I gathered up the cups and lids and headed out the door.  “We’ve got customers,” I said over my shoulder and gave her a shampoo model’s casual flip of my hair.  I restocked the cups and lids and put the rest under the counter.  With a carefree smile, I faced the three people in line and acted as if nothing had just happened within their earshot.

I spent the next fifteen minutes catching up.  Everyone assumed I had won the fight they had overheard based on the smiles and kind comments I tossed about.  Each time I passed Larry’s table I felt a pang of guilt.  “How’s the cinnamon bun?”

“It’s pretty much to die for.”  He patted his flat stomach.  “I better nip that habit off at the bud before no one wants to go out with me.”  He smiled innocently at me or, at least that’s how I interpreted it.  If it was meant to make me feel guilty, it failed, but it came close to making me like him.

“So, the play is good, huh?” I asked and immediately questioned whether I wanted to open that door.  He sat up a little straighter.  “Yeah!  It’s…amazing.  I think you’d really enjoy it.”  After an awkward moment, he pulled a card out of his wallet and slid it over to me.  “Give me a call and we’ll do it.”

I took the card and put it in my apron without looking at it.  Although I doubted I would ever call, my world brightened again.  Maybe Jo was right.  I’ll never tell her that, of course, but Joline might just have something after all.  She said that I had gotten her through college.  It made me laugh.  If it hadn’t been for Jo, I would have believed that college was the desk and bed of my dorm room, a certain chair in the library, and classrooms.

After gracing Larry with a smile, I returned into the shop and picked up pots of regular and decaffeinated coffees.  Speeding through the tables, I poured refills and exchanged smiles and pleasantries with my customers.  It was an act to be sure but the smiles bordered on the edge of true.

At Tom’s table, I held the decaf pot over his cup that still had dregs of chocolate and cream in it.  Tom nodded and I poured.  “I could sit here all day, Maggie.”

“Stay there.  It’s less work for me,” I said and gave him a genuine smile.  A commotion occurred behind me and I heard a man’s voice.  “Excuse me.  Some room, please.”

“Well now, that’s something you don’t see every day,” Tom said as he looked past me.  I spun in the direction of his gaze.  The pot of decaf collided with a businessman in full stride who made a valiant but unsuccessful effort to side-step the oncoming disaster.

I watched the coffee lurch out of my pot toward the Dolce & Gabbana, light grey, silk and wool blend suit jacket.   It splashed onto the left panel of his jacket soaking in like water on parched earth.  A flurry of movement ensued:  the man tried to dance away, yanking off his designer sunglasses, I almost dropped the pots onto Tom’s table and as I grabbed his napkin, the man hesitantly tried to wave the mess away with his manicured hands.

As I tried to sop up the worst of it, I looked at the man.  For a split-second I froze.  From his cropped black hair through his perfectly tailored suit down to his obviously, hand-made leather shoes, he was an ad for male couture.

His blue eyes, his chiseled face with a hint of beard that suggested careful grooming rather than neglect, the way the clothes hung on his muscular body made me hold the breath I had just taken.  For that instant, I imagined us together.  The instant passed.  I exhaled a quiet laugh at my own hubris and searched for some magic words that would make this right.

“I am so sorry,” I said.  I managed to blot up bit of it.

“How fucking clumsy are you?” the man asked.

“Neither of you were looking where you were going!” Tom said, stepping forward to defend me.

“Keep out of it,” the man said and pulled his suit coat away from his pants so that nothing would drip on them.  “I cannot believe this!  The most important day of my life and YOU happen!”

“Come with me,” I said.  “I think I can clean it.”

“I don’t have time.”  He looked himself over.  A crowd gathered around to watch the soap opera.

“Do you want to go wherever you have to go looking like that?  Come into the back.  I’ll see if I can rinse it off right now.”

I saw the man check his watch.  Recognition that it was a Franck Muller Revolution 2 caused me to gasp.  Real money was standing in front of me.  He sighed in frustration.

“Just come with me.  I’ll get this fixed.”  He wasn’t moving.  “I promise,” I added.

A momentary standoff.  I could see his desire to be rid of me and I understood completely.  I wanted to be rid of me too.  Judging by the suit and watch, I expected that his attorney would be stopping by later on to begin proceedings.  How could I be so ham-fisted?  Why couldn’t I have quit my job when the impulse struck me earlier?

“Come on,” I said, “I can’t make it any worse.”  I saw a hint of a smile cross his face.

“I just don’t…” he started.

“…have time,” I finished.  “I know.  I don’t know of any way to make this up to you.  At least let me try to make you presentable.”  I watched him think this over.  I offered my hand to lead him into the back.  He took it.



I ignored Joline’s stare.  “There’s seltzer in the back, Maggie,” I heard as I swept the man past Jo into the cramped back room.  Jo followed us.

“Jo, I did this, I’ll undo it.  You’ve got a café to run,” I said.  While I looked for the seltzer, the man stripped off his jacket.

“Do you have any idea what this suit cost?” he asked.

Typical, self-important male, I thought.  I was nowhere near to forgiving myself for what I did but Tom was right, it took two to ruin his suit.  He had skirted inside the bounds of the café seating area for a short cut making him the ideal target for my coffee missile.

I twisted open the bottle of seltzer I found, pulled the towel from my apron, and soaked it with the water.  I turned to see a very angry man staring at his watch.

“More than I make in a month, I’d wager,” I said.  I hung the jacket on a hanger against on the door and started to dab at the cocoa colored stain setting into the silk and wool.

“Including tips,” the man added.   I glanced back at him and saw that his shirt was a victim of my clumsiness.  “Oh, god,” I said.  I finished daubing seltzer on the jacket and turned to the man.  “Let’s get that shirt off,” I said.  Afraid to see the disdain in his eyes, I concentrated on the task of helping him with his tie.  He slapped my hands away.  I fought my way back and helped unknot the lovely, purple, patterned, silk tie that felt like a piece of heaven in my hands.

As I slipped the tie off his neck I noticed he wasn’t resisting any more.  I chanced a glance up at his eyes and found them locked on me.  Looking away quickly, “I’m so sorry,” was all I could think to say.

He unbuttoned his shirt, “You already said that.” I tried hard not to stare at his muscular chest, shoulders, and arms as he removed the shirt and busied myself with hanging the it on the back of the chair.

“I guess I’ve run out of conversation.  At least when it comes to destroying men’s clothing.”

He laughed again.  “That’ll shorten the court case.”

“What?!” Although I had already imagined a lawyer and all that goes with him, the stark reality of it made me gape at him.

“I guess…I…” I babbled.

He checked his watch again.  “Listen, I don’t care about the clothes.  I mean I do, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is that I have the most important meeting of my life and assuming you can get the stain out, I’m going to arrive out of breath and without a second to gather myself.”

I looked him in the eyes for the first time.  There was a little boy there.  There was an angry, wealthy businessman too, but the little boy was holding a hand out for help.  I gazed.

“I know it’s nothing to you but it’s everything to me,” he said.  I just stared.  “Maggie?”

It startled me out of my stupor.  “How do you know my?…oh, Jo.”

He checked his watch again.

“It’s not any later that when you checked a few seconds ago,” I said.

“If you’re going to do something, you better do it soon,” the man said checking his watch again and computed something silently.   I looked at the jacket and shirt.  I poured seltzer on a clean part of my towel and worked on the shirt.  To my relief, the coffee started to fade from the starched white shirt.  Fortunately, the front of the shirt was fairly unscathed and the worse stain was on the side where it would be covered by the jacket.  I returned my attention to the jacket.  The fabric was puckering up in places, the stain holding its own against the seltzer.  I dabbed at it some more.  After a moment, I stopped and turned to find him staring at his watch.

“I have an idea,” I said.

“Pouring coffee over the whole suit?”

“That’s an option.”  I almost laughed.  “But I was really thinking I could borrow a jacket from a friend.  He’s your size so at least you would be presentable.”

“Presentable?!  I guess you didn’t hear me.  This is the most import –“

“Most important meeting of your life.  I understand.  Do you want to go in a wet, partially stained suit or do you want to look like you were maybe torn between suits this morning?”

He stared at me in shock then laughed.  “You’re something else.  You are really something else.”  He checked his watch again.  “Okay, go see if your friend would loan his jacket.  He must be a very good friend.”

“He wants something from me.”

“That I can believe,” the man said.  I looked up at him and saw a smile for the first time.  It opened his face and made him seem less like the end of my career as a waitress and more like the beginning of something else.  I backed up into the wet jacket.

“I’ll go get it,” I said and fumbled for the door handle.

“Time is money,” he said but the tone had changed and the smile was still there.

Flustered, I smiled and bumbled my way through the door.  I closed the door behind me and leaned against it for a moment to collect myself.  I reopened the door and leaned my head in.  “You might want to dry your shirt,”  I pointed at a plastic wrapped bundle of clean towels behind him, “use as many as you need.”  I closed the door again.

“That suit looked like it was more valuable than bakery,” Jo said with some concern.

“You should see the watch,” I said as I rushed out to the sidewalk tables.  “Half a million, easy.”

Alarmed, Jo said, “I don’t think my insurance will cover that.”

Larry’s table was empty.  My breath felt like an intruder in my throat.  “Larry!” I called out.  I pulled out my phone, the card he gave me, and punched the number in.  I heard the ringing in my phone over the sound of another phone ringing nearby.

“Miss me already?” Larry asked from right behind me.  I jumped and spun around to him.  “That creep giving you trouble?” he asked with a nod toward the inside of the shop.  Our phones continued to ring.  With some agitation, we turned them off.

“I have a favor…”  What he asked sank in.  “No.  He’s not a problem.  Well, he is.  I ruined his jacket and he needs to be somewhere.”

“You need a favor?”  He smirked.  “From me?  Want me to drive him home or something?”

I looked at Larry’s jacket.  It was a nice jacket.  A dark, blue-grey that would go perfectly well with the slacks the man was wearing.  The man.  I didn’t even know his name.

“You look like you’re about the same size.  I would never ask this but I’ve really…”

“You want me to give MY jacket to Evan Luther?!  Are you crazy?”

“Evan Luther?!”  The name hit me like a runaway semi.  “The Evan Luther?!”

Tom joined us.  “The only one.  The playboy billionaire who makes more money sitting in your back room for ten minutes than I made after taxes and coffee last year.”  Larry nodded.  “When you screw up, Maggie, you do it royally,” Tom said with a laugh.

The enormity of it sunk in.  I said goodbye to my future.

“Okay…good god, what the hell have I done…Larry, I really need that jacket.  Maybe he’ll let me live if I get him to his meeting in time.  Oh god!  The meeting.  Didn’t Luther Brothers schedule a major announcement today?”  I check the time on my phone.

“It can’t be about Evan.  He’s the prodigal son.  Just roams the world on his dad’s money bedding supermodels and movie stars,” Tom said.

“He’s a space filler at his dad’s business,” Larry added.

He took me by the shoulders.  “You really want to do this for him?” Larry asked.  I nodded still befuddled by the enormity of what was happening.  He thought it over for a second.   Larry slipped out of his jacket and held it suspended on one finger.  I reached for it and smiled humbly at him.

“Ah, ah, ah!” he said and pulled the jacket back.  “Let’s pick a day for our first date.”  He smiled at me expectantly.  I looked at the jacket and then at Larry.  His stock had gone up and down so many times in my eyes, I didn’t know where he stood.

“Okay, okay.  How about Friday night?”

“Pick you up at seven for dinner.”

“Why don’t we meet somewhere instead?”

He held the jacket further away.

I frowned, reached into my apron for a pen and wrote on the back of an empty order check.  “Here’s my number and address.  Seven o’clock Friday.  Don’t be late.  And don’t expect me to be happy about being blackmailed into a date.”

Larry smiled and handed over the jacket.  I started toward the shop, stopped and went back to Larry.  I gave him a kiss on the cheek.  “Thank you.”

I kissed Tom on the cheek.  “I didn’t do anything,” Tom said.

“I like you,” I said to Tom and smirked at Larry as I went into the shop.

When I opened the door to the storeroom, Evan Luther, his naked back to me, turned to smile.  He looked every bit his reputation.  Losing the fight for my sexual survival, I melted.  The smile wormed its way into my brain.  The tan, probably from Mediterranean isles, the broad shoulders and narrow waist, the look of him was everything my body wanted from a man.

He put something down on the desk and turned to face me.  “Why are you hiding?” he asked.

“What?”  I wasn’t sure what I just heard but it wasn’t the words that should have accompanied the fantasy that was careening around inside of me.

He stepped toward me.  “Your clothes.”  He barely touched my black, bulky sweater.  I shivered as if he had yanked it off.  “Your hair.”  His hand brushed a tress from my cheek so lightly it could have been a breeze.  A tiny spasm coursed through me.  “Your attitude that says ‘nothing matters’ but you’re hiding from the world.  Why?”  His words didn’t mean anything to me.  They were the sounds of the wind going through the palms on the island on which we were stranded.

A voice told me to run away.  Was it the wind playing tricks?  I knew I was in danger of losing myself in this moment, with this man.  The fact that he had slept with every beautiful woman in the world didn’t matter.

Evan touched my face softly but there was no doubt it was the touch of a man who wanted a woman.  I looked up at him.  His eyes made me want to say yes to any question he asked.  He leaned in for a kiss that I was willing to give but he inhaled and smiled.  “You smell like coffee, baked cherry pie and…woman.”  I jerked back.  Was that a compliment?  If it was he needed some remedial… “I’m so happy you haven’t hidden yourself with scent the way many women do.”  If I wasn’t sold already, that would have brought the auctioneer’s gavel slamming down.

Evan backed away from me.  Where was he going?  Was something wrong?  Had I done something, said something?  He turned back to the desk and picked up something.

“You went to Wharton?”  He examined the diploma it as if it might have come off the back of a magazine.

“It’s mine.”  I yanked the diploma away from him.  My anger made me add, “I was top of my class.”  My sexual beast pleaded but I would have none of it.  Anger and embarrassment blossoming,  I didn’t care how gorgeous he was, I wasn’t taking another slap in the face from Luther Brothers.  “The jacket’s there.  You should hurry or you’ll miss your precious meeting.”

Evan opened his arms out in a gesture of innocence.  “Maggie.  I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to insult you.  You just don’t find many Wharton grads hiding out pouring coffee.”

I seethed.  The part of me that listened to him tried to smooth away the anger.  I stood defiantly in front of him.

“Just answer me,” he said.  “Why?”

“Luther Brothers,” exploded out of a deep place.

“Luther… I don’t…” he stammered.

The self-doubt bubbled back up to the surface and I crawled for cover.  “I guess I don’t make a very good first impression.”

Instead of trying to console me, take me in his arms, he laughed.  It was like some cosmic joke that everyone got but me.

“You went through Human Resources?”  I didn’t move.  “They’re paid to say no.  Don’t you know that?”

It felt like a rebuke.  I stepped away from him but he closed the distance.   “I mean, if I had to go through H-R, I’d be on the streets begging.”  He took me by the shoulders.

“Why don’t you just leave?” I asked and pointed to the door.

“This is more important.  You’re more important.”  There it was again.  The island, the breezes, the longing.   He inched into my space and ran his fingers delicately from my ear, down to my throat where they paused tantalizingly.  I pushed his hand away but the anger had dissipated.

“I’m not one of your supermodels,” I said.

“Thank god,” he said.

“You’re going to stand there and tell me how hard it is to traipse around the world sleeping with supermodels and actresses who are there for your taking.”

“I think hard is the right word.”

In spite of myself, I laughed.  His hand returned to the hollow at the base of my throat, paused for a second, then descend slowly to the top of my breast.  I pushed it off with a playful slap.

“I’m just trying to discover what you’re hiding under this…” he pulled on the fabric of my sweater, “…what do you call this?”  My laugh belied the storm within.   He helped me out of the sweater and I let it happen!

Knowing where this was going was exhilarating and enervating.  This man represented all I had come to hate since graduate school.  He was glib, sure of himself to the point of arrogance, presumptive as only the privileged can be, yet…he was beautiful and I thought I detected a sensitivity that lurked behind the perfect facade.  And, for some reason, he was interested in me!  A part of me was convinced that he wouldn’t like what he found or, at best, this would be a ten minute fling that he would have trouble recalling after lunch, but I drove my doubts away and opened up a little more.

His hands came back to me and found my breast; I slapped it away with an half-hearted slap.  My smile begged him to try again and he did.  His touch was soft, exploratory without the male need to grab and pinch.  Evan leaned forward and brushed my lips with his.  Electricity coursed through me.  What I felt about rich playboys, men in general, and Luther Brothers in particular faded into a dim chorus of conflicting nos and what ifs.

Casually, with one hand, he untied my apron and let it fall.  “What other wonders have you been hiding?”  My insecurity threatened again but I committed myself to whatever future, however brief, this held for me.  I’m pulling my head out of the sand.  Taking one for the team, I thought.  That was before Evan’s hand brushed down my back and explored the fullness of my derriere.  It moved to the curve between my hip and waist.  It felt like it belonged there.  His other hand moved to the top button of my blouse which he deftly undid and his lips followed behind.

“Such a lovely neck.”  Evan’s lips traced my skin just below the collar.   I sighed.  I wanted him to go on forever.   I wanted him to stop.

“Maybe we shouldn’t…” I said.

He rose up and covered my lips with a soft, brief kiss, pulled back and looked me in the eye.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.  It seemed as if he actually cared about what I wanted.  My answer was to kiss him back and help him with the buttons.

The tempo picked up.  I was out of my blouse and pants in quick order.  His intake of breath as he released my breasts from my bra petted my ego deliciously.  Evan’s kisses became more insistent, more probing, his hands more intrusive and demanding.

His fingers found my nipples but backed off.  My skin swelled up to meet his hands.  With a touch so soft, he circled my areolas one goose bump at a time; I could feel each tiny, invisible hair on my body raise up to be included until I was ready to scream.  I grabbed his hand and pressed it hard against my breast.  It ground the sensation into my body and my back arched in response.

I ran my hands down his muscular, bare arms and unbuckled his belt while we were locked in a kiss.  One last kiss for his lips then I dropped down, kissing a path to the waistband of his pants.  I unhooked them, looked up at him and saw a need in his eyes that made me smile.  I slowly unzipped his pants and they fell to his feet.

His erection strained against his silk boxers.  I stroked the shape of his desire with my lips.  He could only groan in response.  I stood up and replaced my lips with my fingers, gently tracing the outline of his throbbing manhood.  His ripped his boxers off.

We kissed again.  Deep, passionate, winner-takes-all kisses that left each of us servants to the needs of our bodies.  In burst of action, he tore my jockey shorts off and lifted me up to receive him.  For a moment, I worried that I wouldn’t be ready for him.  Enough time had lapsed between lovers, I wasn’t sure what was going on down there.  That thought disappeared as I felt him guide himself into me.  I was so wet, so receptive.  His heat made me gasp.  He held himself inside of me for a moment.  His presence made me feel invaded yet complete.  My sense of time and place disappeared.

I clutched his hips with my legs and his shoulders with my arms.  Our lips blended together and I thrust against him.  It took my breath away but I did it again.  He spun me around and, with a single swipe, cleared the desk of obstacles and lowered me onto it.  Buried inside of me, he pulsed as he broke our kiss and lowered his mouth to my breasts.  He took each rosy areola and nipple into his mouth as if they were the answer to his prayers.  With one hand, he held my hips in place while he drove himself into me over and over.  The other hand grasped and squeezed and dug into me.  It was like an animal had been released.

His strength frightened me and possessed me.  I wanted him, I wanted all of him.  I bucked against him to quicken his release.  His hands slipped up and down my legs.  His kiss pushed my head back against the wall and his thrusts met mine with an intensity that released my beast.

I could feel the edge.  I knew I was moments away and dug my nails into his back as I arched against him, moving myself against his hard body.   He responded by keeping himself pressed hard against me.  He pulsed once, then again.  It sent me over the precipice.  I fell into a chasm of intense passion and pleasure.  The world was gone, I was gone, just the feeling remained.  My moans rose up from the abyss of my ecstasy.  As the first one escaped, his hand clamped over my mouth and the sounds of my release were muffled.

I gripped his buttocks, holding him tight, moving against him while I searched for the last orgasm that was hiding inside me.  I found it.  My gyrations brought him to climax.  He pulled out of me and covered my belly with his seed.  I watched his pleasure shiver through him again and again.  A sheen of sweat covered us both.  I felt the chill of passion spent on my nakedness.  He pecked at my lips and stared at me as if I might be an apparition.  He kissed me fully.  We lay together bound by completion.

“You didn’t have to pull out,” I said.

“I didn’t know.  Besides, turnabout is fair play.”  He nodded toward the stained jacket that had made its way to the floor.   I laughed.  Evan backed away from me and I saw my body in the mirror, jammed onto the desk in an awkward angle, my feet still in their sneakers, pants twisted around my right ankle, my wet belly and breasts.  I felt warm and chilled, content and needy, a part of a larger whole and lonely.  I covered myself with my arms.   I looked up at Evan who was staring at me.

“You are amazing,” he said.  He dressed with a speed and an air of ease that suggested much practice.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Then say nothing.”  He checked his watch.   I watched him pull his form-fitting shirt on and button it up.  His eyes rarely left my body.  Normally, I would have been in a hurry to cover up but I lay in a daze of satisfaction.  I didn’t care if he was rushing off to another woman.  I had gotten what I wanted from him for that moment.

He grabbed his tie.  I strode over to him, rubbing the mix of our sex onto my belly and breasts.  “Let me help,” I said.  He looked at my hands that glistened with him.  “I think I better do this myself,” he said.

I understood and put one finger after another in my mouth and sucked it clean, tasting the unique tang of man, my eyes never leaving his.  All he could do was gasp.  I took his tie from him and carefully formed  a perfect knot snug to the top button.  I looked at my hands.

“Missed a little.”  I wiped it on my lips.  He stared at me for a moment then took the offering into his mouth, kissing me ravenously.  I was ready again.

“I really have to go,” Evan said while he pulled on Larry’s jacket.  He checked his look in the mirror.  “You were right, this will work just fine.”

“I hope the meeting goes well,” I said, for the first time wanting to hold onto him and keep him for myself.

“I doubt that.”  He smiled and checked his look one last time.  “I promise I’ll be back this evening to take you on a proper date.”  His words had the air of a lie from a good liar and I didn’t want to think that.  I clutched my sweater in front of me.   “What time do you close?”

“Uh…” This was a simple question.  I was sure I knew the answer. “Seven,” came out while I was searching for it.

“I’ll be here no later than six-thirty.  That work for you?”

“Tonight?” I asked, checking my mental empty-for-years-at-a-time calendar for a conflict.  Evan nodded. “I promise,” he said and opened the door a sliver.  He came back to me and touched my cheek gently with his hand.  “Besides, we need to discuss how you can repay me for the suit.” I had forgotten about the suit.  I had forgotten about work and what the people outside the door must be thinking.  Evan laughed and picked up my diploma.  “Have any hot stock tips?”

I pictured the skewered pile of Tom’s predictions.  “A whole stack of them.”  His eyes widened in response.  “That pot of coffee may have been the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Evan smiled.  One instant he was there, another he was gone.  I looked around the storage room.  Naked, dragging my pants behind me, I put the room back in order, carefully putting my certificates back in the box and the box and laptop back on the desk.  I returned his coat to the nail over the mirror.  When the room was to my satisfaction, I did what I could with my clothes.  The jockeys were a loss.  I wadded them up and dropped them in the basket.  Each piece of clothing brought with it delicious memories.  Redressing took more time than the whole encounter.  I checked the room again, walked over to the desk, pulled out my Wharton diploma, and hung it over the desk.  A little nod of approval spoke of the change inching its way through me.

If I never saw him again, I decided, at least I have a story… A story no one would believe.




“I take it, from the smile on his face, that you worked out some arrangement?” Jo asked and smiled at me.

My first reaction was to go back in the storage room and hide.  I backed up a half step and Jo, as if locked in a dance, stepped with me.  I wanted to run away rather than talk about what just happened.  It was one thing to do it, a whole other thing to talk about it regardless who the audience was.

“That was the most take charge, balls-to-the-wall move I’ve seen you do since school.”

I wondered if a quickie with a guy I didn’t know counted as a take-charge kind of thing.  I looked up and saw Larry staring at me as if I were a mad dog foaming at the mouth.

“It’s not…”  I was about to lie.  I tried the lie out on myself.  It’s not what you think.  Nothing happened. It was ridiculous so I started again.  “Things happen,” I said.  What an improvement that is, I thought, and now I understand why people beat their heads into walls.

“Things happen?!”  Larry said.  “Things happen.”  He chuckled mirthlessly.  “I’m going to have to remember that Friday night.”  He walked to the outside seating area and bellowed, “Things happen.  Evan fucking Luther.”

Joline whispered to me, “So, what’s the superstar like?”  I gaped at her.  “You want the sloppy details?” I asked.  Jo thought it over for three seconds and nodded happily.

“I’m happy for you because you got out of your shell for a moment.  Not because you got Evan Luther off in the backroom.  He’s a prick.”  She laughed.  “I guess you know that.  I mean you won’t see him again so who cares.  The thing that happened back there is your rebirth.”

My rebirth, I thought.  So that’s what a rebirth feels like.  “Jo, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”  I was about to jump down her throat.

“I don’t?  Just look at yourself.  It’s the Maggie I knew in school.”

I shook my head wearily.  This escapade had run its course as far as I was concerned.  I was ready to go back to serving coffee and pastries and forget that I had been a fairytale princess for a moment.   Jo took my hand and walked me back into the storage room.  She tossed the jacket onto the back of the chair and made me stand in front of the mirror.  “Look!” she said.  I looked.  “What do you see?”

“Me?” I suggested but it was a different me.  Not so noticeably different that people wouldn’t recognize me but I stood there, hair a sexy mess, no sweater, shirt tucked into my cargo pants which were held up by a tight belt.  The black blob transfigured into a female in the course of however many minutes it took the two of us to get our jollies.  It made me consider wearing something with color in it.  Clearly, I had been in a bad need of sex.   I turned away, refusing to join in Jo’s look of triumph.   I hated nothing more than being wrong about myself.  But I also hated myself for giving in without a fight.  I had worked long and hard for my genderlessness and it was gone.

“You see?!” Jo said with some jubilation.  “Maggie is back.”

“Maggie never left,” I said.

“She did.  Believe me.”  Jo smiled at me.  “What should we do with this jacket?”

We walked over to the jacket.  She held it up for us to look at.  The stain had set in.  Unless the new trend in menswear was jackets that looked like a pot of coffee had spilled on them, this one was toast.  I wanted to say that sex with me was easily worth one, measly jacket.  I wanted to say that Evan owed me but the accountant inside of me that kept tally of my life burst out laughing.

“He said he’s coming back,” I said.

“I hope it’s not with any expectations about the jacket.  Maggie, we can’t afford to have a man like that angry with us.”

“I know.  I can’t apologize enough.”

“I don’t expect you too.  Accidents happen.  Besides, Tom and Larry told me it was Evan’s fault, not yours.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way,” I said and slumped down in the chair.  I noticed a bulge in the inner pocket of the jacket and reached in.  It was a wallet made of some impossibly soft leather.

“Maybe there’s enough money in here to buy him a new jacket and he won’t remember how much money he was carrying.”  I was half joking.  The inner-accountant wanted it to be true.  I opened the wallet and discovered there was no cash at all.  His driver’s license. Yep, it was Evan Luther all right.  “Even his driver’s license photo is beautiful.”  I showed it to Jo.

“That’s just not fair.”  She took the wallet from me and pulled out an American Express Black Centurion card.  She whistled.  “I didn’t know these existed.”

I looked it over.  It was as impressive as you could hope a credit card could be.

“Just some membership cards and a Visa.  Must have that for when he slums it.  Like here, for instance,” Jo said.  A cell phone buzzed.  Jo fished a slender phone out of his side pocket.  Looked at the caller ID which said “unlisted.”  “Probably the president,” Jo said and slipped both the wallet and phone back into the jacket.  I retrieved the phone from the jacket.

The back of my hand hit a small lump on the inside of the suit.  I looked at the lining and saw a small, almost invisible pocket.  I slid two fingers in and came out with a platinum and alligator money clip.  Jo gasped.  We leaned together like schoolgirls and counted the money.  “Five thousand dollars.”  It was my turn to gasp.

“Spare change,” said Jo.  “Do you think he’d miss two?  I could really use a new oven.”  We giggled.  I slid the cash back into its secret compartment.  “Goodbye, oven.  We would have made beautiful muffins together.”  She pointed at the phone and looked at me questioningly.  I slipped it into my apron.  “He might call to make sure I have his stuff,” I said.

“Maybe we should call the police and have them take this stuff.”

“It’s safe here,” I said.

“It’s not so much that as, if he turns out to be a jerk and claims that we ripped him off, the police have the evidence that we did not.”

“What if,” I said, “the police rip him off and point a finger at us?”  Jo coughed out a laugh but nodded.

“You’ve got a point.  We’ll leave it in here.”

The bakery had gone unattended long enough so we walked back out to the counter.  I picked up my tray, grabbed a clean towel, put my apron on, and contemplated going back to work.

“He said he’s coming back to take me on a proper date,” I said, broaching the subject again.  “At six-thirty.”

“If he doesn’t, I’m buying that oven,” Jo said.  We shared a last smile as I turned to rescue my abandoned customers.  Almost everything about my encounter with Evan Luther ran against my grain, but I had a lighter step and a lighter heart than before the coffee massacre.

On the sidewalk, I walked past Larry who scowled and muttered something about poor, little rich boy.  I asked Diane and her sister if they needed anything.  “Tell me the truth,” Diane said, “is he as amazing as they say?”  I smiled and turned to her sister.  “The only danger in this neighborhood is stray billionaires,”  I said.  The two women laughed and I continued to the other tables.  One table, miffed at the lack of service, had paid their checks and left a ‘thanks for nothing’ note instead of a tip.  Two other regulars smiled as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened and asked for refills.

I checked Tom’s table.  He was standing, waiting for me with a few bills held loosely in his hand.  Joline must have cleaned up while I was…busy…because the coffee pots were gone.

“Your money’s no good here, mister,” I said as I walked up to him.  He smiled, held the money out to me in protest.  I smiled and shook my head, he dropped five dollars on the table.

“Sharks swim the waters you just dipped your toe into, Maggie blue.”  Tom put a gentle hand on my arm and walked away.

That left Larry.  I turned to find him staring at me.  He waved me over, pointing at his phone as if it were the answer to everything.  I sauntered, just to make a point.  When I got there, he touched the screen of his phone and a video played.

“As you may have heard,” came a voice from a woman on camera in a studio, “Evan Luther was just named head of Mergers and Acquisitions of his father’s company.  That’s quite a surprise isn’t it, Frank.”  Frank Messier, a corporately handsome news anchor, nodded.  “Indeed, Gillian.  The business community assumed Jackson Kent, Evan’s cousin, who for years had worked his way up Luther Brothers, would claim that title.  As you can see…” The screen showed Harold Luther, Evan’s father, standing between Evan and Kent.  I couldn’t hear what Evan’s father was saying but Kent’s barely muted jealousy spoke volumes.

“The problem with your boyfriend, Maggie, is that he doesn’t know his ass from asset.”  I’m sure he meant that as an insult but it set me off thinking about Evan’s ass which led to…

“Listen to me!” Larry insisted.  “This guy’s no good for you.  He’s been coddled every moment of his life.  His father sends him off to Europe every time he does something that threatens the family name.”

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked.  His jaw dropped like I had just slapped him.

“Bad thi…?!”  He busied himself with his phone again and triumphantly held it up for me to see.  “Watch this!  From six months ago.”

I could see a two-tone blue, very sleek car stuck in the fountain in front of The Plaza.  “That is a Bugatti Veyron!” Larry said.  That, I guessed from the envy dripping off his words, was a big deal.  The words of from the reporter in front of the car were muted.  Evan came on screen and Larry pumped up the volume.  Flashes went off as he spoke.

“My girlfriend…” Evan said.  Larry paused the video.

“She’s the Australian Olympic swimming champion,” Larry said and restarted the video.

“…Natalie, was drying out.  I had to find water in a hurry.”  Evan smiled the smile that had found a home in my heart.  The press laughed.  Natalie, a gorgeous, tall blonde with a small bandage on her forehead, laughed.  More cameras clicked, more flashes flashed.  I felt like I had just seen my future sink into the fountain.  Who was I to compete with someone like her?  Or any of the hers in his life?

I walked away from Larry.  “You’re going to hang your hopes on him?” he asked to my back.

I stood at the counter and scoured the dreams in my head with a brush of reality.




Evan had a very popular phone.  The rest of the day was filled with Renee, Chrissie, Maude, Claire, Stephanie, the list went on and on, each calling or texting to congratulate him in her particular style.  Natalie the swimmer didn’t call.  She must be underwater somewhere.

The phone didn’t stop.  With a little more force than needed, I stuffed the phone under the register.  Jo came up to me.

“Busy man,” she said.

“Half the women in New York have called,” I said a little whinier than I would have liked.  Jo put her hand on mine.

“A man like that is bound to attract a lot of attention.”

“He sure got mine.  What an idiot.  He’s just like the popular guys in college preying on us nerdy girls.”

“As I recall,” Jo interrupted, “that wasn’t always a bad thing.”  I looked at her and we burst out laughing.

“What happened today was amazing!  It may or may not lead to anything, but just the experience of being with someone like that – “

“And then watching him on the news with another woman,” I said.

“You know, this was the first day I’ve seen you happy since…” she started.  She realized what she had brought up.  “I think we should auction off his phone. I’ll bet a lot of media types would bid pretty high…”

“Since I got shot down by Luther Brothers.”  I walked around the counter and hugged her.  “You don’t have to be my cheerleader.”

“Someone’s gotta be.”

Carrying the pots of coffee, I went out to the tables to see if there were any takers.  Even Diane and her sister were leaving.  I guess they had all the entertainment they could stand or the sister was concerned about the inevitable encroachment of big-city crime on their table.  Larry sat sullenly long enough to make me suffer then stood up, scraping the chair against the concrete with some extra gusto and walked away.  “Friday,” was all he said.

The sun seemed to be stuck in place.  Customers came and went.  I smiled and performed all my waitress duties to their fullest like a trained monkey and still the day didn’t progress.  Every so often, when I was near the register, I would hear Evan’s phone vibrate on the shelf.  I imagined cover models from Vogue sending him their best and their best was so much better than anything I had to offer.

The middle of the afternoon finally arrived.  There was a lull in patrons.  Normally, I would collapse in the only non-customer chair we had and throw my aching feet up on the desk.  The thought of returning to that room filled me with trepidation.  I stood in front of the door and thought over my options.  I could walk somewhere.  My feet rejected that outright.  I could stand around the counter.  Another foot veto.  I could sit at one of the tables.  That was a Jo veto.  She hated the look of employees relaxing in front of potential customers.  That left two options: quit and go home—my feet liked that one but my wallet didn’t, and go laze in front of the desk.

I walked into the storage room.  I don’t know what I had imagined it would look like but I was relieved to see it hadn’t changed.  Evan’s jacket was still draped casually over the chair.  I looked at myself in the mirror and flinched.  I was still me.  I hung the jacket over the mirror again.  Looking at myself wouldn’t make me feel any more positive about my chances with a man who loved and left the most beautiful women in the world.

The stain hadn’t disappeared, it had taken on a different, more permanent look.

I slumped into the chair.  My feet begged, so I slipped off my shoes and rubbed my feet, the pain making me forget the day for a moment.  Gingerly, I lifted them up to the desk and let their heat and pain dissipate.

The room smelled of me, of us.  It mocked me but it also put me into full playback mode.  I thought about the first kiss, the brush of his lips against mine.  The soft caress of his fingers.  I could feel my skin tighten at the thought of it.  Heat, expectation, sexual desire all drove through me like race cars.  I felt my legs wrapped around him, the iron-hard heat inside of me.  His hands exploring my body.  I was on the edge of slipping into another orgasm.

I shook my head clear.  This couldn’t happen.  I wasn’t one of his girls.  One of his girls, I thought.  I am one of his girls!  Maybe they got to ride around in sports cars and dine at fabulous restaurants but, in the end, we were all in the same boat: the good ship “Evan’s Toys.”  Was I worse off after Evan than before?  Would the convent no longer take me or the feudal lord reject me because I was tainted?  If I lived in that world, the answer was yes but I lived in New York City.  Today.  The simple truth was nobody cared.

I closed my eyes and enjoyed the relief my feet were feeling.  My mind drifted off into one Evan fantasy after another.  I imagined myself, dressed in an elegant gown, dancing with him in the fountain at The Plaza not caring that the designer dress was soaked.  We lay atop a beautiful yacht anchored off the Maldives soaking in the sun.  As I lay there watching the gentle clouds gambol across the azure sky, I turned to Evan.  He smiled that smile that made me open to him then he turned to the hottest actress in Hollywood sunbathing nude next to him.

I jerked up and brought my feet down.  How in the world did I get myself in this position?  A subtle-to-the-point-of-disappearing, small town dweeb competing with the most glamorous women in the world for a prize that couldn’t be won:  Evan Luther.

I paced the room and ended up in front of the desk.  It held the opposing forces of my world: my box of failure and the center of my sexual world.

I riffled through the box and came to the letter, THE letter from Luther Brothers thanking me for my interest in their business.  A form letter that told me I was no longer welcome to darken their door.  It was on top of a paper-clipped stack of rejections from other firms.  Initial correspondence with them was full of excitement and expectation and then they met me.  I would sit there like a frozen fish stick hoping I would thaw out quickly enough to answer at least one question with something other than monosyllabic mumbles.

Tears poured out of me and I sobbed.  I dropped the letters back in the box, leaned on the chair and let it go.  Jo looked in on me.  The concern on her face made me feel sorrier for myself so I waved her away and indulged in my misery.  After god knows how long, I cried myself dry.  I pulled my shirt out of my pants, wormed into my bulky sweater, slipped on my shoes and socks, and fell back into the chair.  Something caught my eye.  I turned to see my Wharton diploma laughing at me.  In the corner of my other eye, Evan’s jacket laughed at me.  I yanked the diploma off the wall and jammed it into the box with enough force to crack the glass and break the frame.

The old Maggie was back.  Evan could come back for his things but not for me.




I went out to the café and spent a moment at the sink trying to wash away my wretchedness.  The sun, stuck high in the sky for so long, had made up for lost time and was lurking behind buildings rather than face me.  A steady stream of take-outs were stopping by to pick up baked goodies and coffee on their way home. The tables were empty, Jo was winding down the café.   My phone said it was six-thirty.

During a lull, I went back into the storage room, removed the sweater, tucked my shirt back in and slapped my cheeks to return some semblance of color to them.  I took the jacket off the mirror and ventured a look at myself.  A train wreck to be sure but it looked like there might be survivors.  Back out to the café where the clock over the sink became my new best friend.  I knew Evan wouldn’t show or at least he would have some stellar reason for postponing our date like there was an emergency meeting of the ski patrol in Gstaad but I decided that miracles do happen and I might be Cinderella after all.

Each tick of the clock jabbed at me.  I checked it so often, I was wearing out my neck.  My phone became another obsession in case the clock had stopped working sometime between a minute ago and a minute later.  I pinched my cheeks again, hoping that I could maintain the look of freshly minted innocence.  The minutes kept ticking away.  Just as I was thinking about letting my cheeks rest, in walked Larry.  “Hasn’t shown?”

My quick look away was his answer.

“I just want to make sure…”

“That you get your jacket back in one piece,” I said.

“That he doesn’t mess around with you.”  He said it shyly and it almost broke my heart.  If I had a reason to be happy with this day it might all boil down to Larry.  “That is so sweet,” I said.  I couldn’t help but smile and kiss his cheek for his consideration.

He leaned against the counter and watched Jo and I clean out the display and the few remaining dishes.

At seven, I collected my sweater and I announced I was going home.  Jo walked over to the door and flipped the sign to show the world that we were closed.  “Guess he has another phone,” I said.

“Stick around.  You know these rich guys.  He probably had to fly back from Paris or something and he’s caught in customs.”  Jo smiled.  Larry smiled too and I wondered if it was for the same reason or because I was being stood up which made him look so much better.

“Looks like you might get your oven after all,” I said and reached for the door shrugging off the hopes that had toyed with me all day.

Had I been looking ahead rather than back at Jo and Larry, I would have noticed a gorgeous man dressed in a suit that made his first one look like a thrift store find standing in front of me.  I would have noticed the jewelry, the sunglasses low on his nose, and those eyes underscoring the smile he beamed at me.  I would have noticed the single, red rose he held out to me.  As it is, I walked into him before I noticed anything.

“At least you weren’t carrying coffee this time,” Evan said and smiled.

I don’t know if I screamed but my hand flew to my mouth.  I wanted to slap him for making my day such a misery, kiss him for making it so memorable, and ask him for a lift to the nearest shrink because I was going insane.  “You’re late,” was all I could say.

“I got caught in customs.  Sometimes they don’t even look at you…” he noticed the shock on my face and stopped.  I turned to Jo and mouthed, “are you psychic?”  Jo was busy patting herself on the back.

“I…you…” I stuttered.

“We have a date.  Remember?”  I turned back to see that Jo had abandoned ship.  Larry stood there with a sour look on his face.  Evan squeezed by me.  “Are you the gentleman who loaned me his jacket?”

Larry nodded.

“I took the liberty of dropping it off at my cleaners.”  He fished a receipt out of his pocket, “It’s prepaid.  Just pick it up tomorrow.”  He handed Larry the ticket.  “I can’t thank you enough.  It saved my hide today.”  He offered a hand and Larry shook it.  I watched the muscles ripple through Evan’s back as they shook hands.  It brought back our moment together and frittered away my will.

Evan turned back and looked me over.  It made me wish I was wearing something more like the women he usually dated.   Jo walked out with the jacket and phone.  “Phone never stopped ringing,” she said.

“Been a hell of a day,” he said and pocketed the phone as if it were a receipt he was going to throw away as soon as he got home.  “Jacket may have bit it,” he said as he held it up to the light and grimaced “but what I got in return…” he smiled at me and I melted again.  At this rate, I was going to be lucky to stand on my own two feet.

“Thank you, Jo, for keeping watch over it.”  He winked at her and I watched my friend melt a little.   I looked at Larry who had a bit of Rottweiler menace going on in his face.  He wasn’t quite growling but I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear him start.

“You’re other stuff is in there too,” Jo added.  “All of it.”

“My wallet!  I can’t tell you what a problem that’s been today.”  He slung the jacket over his forearm without checking on its contents. I thought I heard the word “oven” slip out of Jo while she watched him move toward the door.

“Kitten, your ride awaits!” He opened the door for me.  The tone of his voice and the delicious look on his face almost made me overlook his condescending word choice but it grated against me.   I looked back at Jo who seemed lost in her dreams of a new oven.

I stopped in the doorway and faced him.  “I really don’t like patronizing nick names.”

“Okay, champ!  Let’s go.”  He slapped me on the shoulder.

I slapped his shoulder.  If a rock wore clothing and you slapped it, it would feel like that.  “Anything you say buddy.”

He escorted me out to a dazzling black and silver sports car.  I got lost in its sleek lines.  If he hadn’t opened the door for me, I would have stood there fawning over his vehicle until the light failed.

“Where are we going?”

“Jean Georges at the Trump.  We’re a little late.  I hope you don’t mind running a few red lights?”

At this point, I’m not sure if I minded anything.   I was entering his world.  I was going to be one of his ‘girls’ and I wasn’t at all sure I liked the idea.  I was one of the ninety-nine percent and he was such a one-percenter.  I slid into the car and watched him.  The man was beautiful.  He was everything magazines told young girls they should look for in their mate.  Therefore, every woman in the world was at his doorstep.  He pushed his sunglasses up as he…walked was too mundane a word, pranced too effeminate.  The way he moved was like a jaguar: strong, sure, and graceful.

His jawline could cut fabric but his smile and his eyes made you believe that he would never harm you.  He popped into the seat while tossing his ruined jacket in the back.  Long fingers wrapped around the steering wheel.  As he started the car I wondered how many women had sat in this seat admiring his profile.

He started up the car.  The engine sounded like we could take off vertically if we wanted to.  The acceleration from the curb set me back into the seat.




The journey was a series of heart-pumping close calls, fast corners, accelerations, and desperate stops but we arrived at the Trump unscathed.  The valet hurried over to Evan’s side to bow and scrape.  I gawked as Evan reached into his pocket and pulled out a money clip, this one gold, and peeled off a hundred dollars for the valet.  Other arrivals attended by other valets gave me a glimpse into the evening.  Everyone was dressed right out of Vogue or Vanity Fair.  My fairy godmother had supplied the prince, the carriage, and the ball but she forgot to change me from the scullery maid to a princess.  I looked at my baggy blackness and tried to shrink into my seat.  Maybe a car like this would have Bondsian ejector button that would send me back in time so I could buy something to wear.  Anything.  A ballet tutu would be more suitable for this evening than what I was wearing.

Evan opened my door and offered a hand.  “Maybe I should…” I started but had no idea what I was going to say.

“Just give me your hand.  Everything will be all right.”

I can’t say why but I believed him and offered my hand.  He helped me out of the low slung car.  The valet waited until I was clear before he closed the door.  Evan and I walked into the hotel as if we dined there every night.  As we walked through the door, held open by an overeager doorman, I noticed people looking me over.  My clothing, the armor that had always shielded me from the rest of the world was suddenly rusty and chinked.  They could see me, the real me, and found me lacking.

“Evan, this is wonderful but—“

“You’re going to love this place.  The food’s pretty good, too.”

I studied him as we made our way to the restaurant.  Was he toying with me?  Had he placed a bet with his friends that he could get a schlump into the fanciest places?  A double-edged sword to make the place and the schlump look bad?  A kind of My Fair Lady without the happy ending?  While my head whirled around, we made our way to the Maître d’ and the bowing and scraping, albeit refined, began anew.

“Hope we’re not too late?”

“Certainly not, Monsieur Luther.  And may I add my congratulations?”

“Thank you, Andy, thank you.  My usual table?”

“Indeed, please follow me.”  He snapped his fingers and some understudy for the role stepped into his place as Andy led us to a table that could easily seat six.  Elegant white banquette with matching chairs, set in a field of white walls, dinnerware, and linens, set against windows looking out on the park.  Early diners stopped their conversations and stared at us as we made our way.  They may have been looking at Evan but I couldn’t help feel that I was the object of their incredulity.  One couple applauded quietly as we passed.  I assumed that was a “well done” for his promotion rather than a “oh, how droll, bringing a rag doll in here” but I wasn’t sure.

Evan waited until I was seated then slipped in beside me on the banquette instead of sitting across from me.  It was a romantic thing to do but it made me feel more exposed.  The restaurant returned to business.  From time to time, I would notice people, their eyes locked on us, whispering behind hands.

The menu was a prix fix.  My menu didn’t include the prices.  It was one of those if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it places.  The waiter came by acting as if he’d seen it all before.  “May I interest you in some cocktails while you peruse the menu?”

“Bring me a Kilted Samurai and the lady will have…” he ran options through his head, “a cucumber martini.”

I’m really not the martini type.  “Do you have any red wine?” I asked.  The absurdity of the question startled even me.

“Certainly, madam, I’ll have the sommelier come at once.”

“Hold on for a second, William,” Evan said to the waiter.  “Trust me, Maggie, the martini will cleanse the palate and make the meal much more enjoyable.”

I succumbed.  I wouldn’t know a good wine from a bad one except I assumed that good ones came in bottles.  His presumption to order for me rankled.  I hadn’t excelled in school all those years to be treated like a four-year-old.

“And, William,” Evan added, “we’ll have Chef Vongerichten’s assortment of signature dishes along with whatever pairings of wine he suggests.”  If the evening was going to last past the entrée, I would have to swallow my pride.  I rationalized that since the menu was fairly foreign to me anyway I might be better off depending on Evan’s sensibilities.

The drinks came and I took a sip before answering Evan’s toast with a tilt of his glass.  Once I realized that I had spoiled the moment, I proposed a toast of my own, “To the…” I thought it over, “…moment before forever.”  Was that what this was?  Was this the watershed between what had been my small time dreams and a reality of something big city?  A fish couldn’t be any farther out of water than I was in this restaurant but the likelihood was that I was going to be released back into the pond because I was too small.

There was a pause while Evan considered that.  He tilted his head and smiled as genuine a smile as I’ve seen, clicked my glass with his and said, “The moment before forever.”

I downed my martini and damn near broke the glass crashing it down on the edge of the plate.  The noise was enough to start the whispers behind the shield of hands again.  When I looked at Evan, he chuckled.

“Sorry about that?”

“About what?” he asked and brought his glass down hard against the edge of his plate and laughed out loud.  “We make beautiful music together.”

I loved him that moment even though or maybe because he was as corny as my father.  He motioned to our waiter that I would like another drink.  “What are you drinking?” I asked.

“This is a mix of single malt scotch, citrus, and white ale.”  He held it up as an example of what the gods might be drinking on Mount Olympus.

“A boiler maker,” I said as the waiter brought my martini.  “That’s my father’s favorite drink.”  William was forced to suppress a smile.  Evan noticed and didn’t take kindly to it.  The silence made me shrink inside but Evan laughed again.

“I guess that’s exactly what it is,” he said.

I held up my second martini and he clicked it.  “Here’s to seeing through pretense,” he said.

A busboy cleared my plate and placed a service plate on which the waiter placed a small plate with an upside down sea urchin surrounded by a lovely garnish of jalapeno, citrus of some sort, and black bread.  My only knowledge about sea urchins was that otters loved to eat them.  Had William not stood there identifying the components of the dish, I wouldn’t have had a clue.  It was a little bit gelatinous and made my stomach wish I had some of Jo’s muffins stuffed in my pockets.   But, Evan was right about the cucumber martini, he might be right about this.  Then again, I might puke all over this pretty, white restaurant.

“Close your eyes,” Evan said.  I did so and I heard him fussing with my plate.  “Open your mouth.”  I followed his order and he put a small amount of the delicacy on a black bread corner in my mouth.  With my eyes closed, the dish was a subtle fishy, salty, spicy, and citrusy mix.    I can’t say I would go out of my way to order it again but not looking at it improved the flavor immensely.  I opened my eyes to see him smiling at me.  “See?”

I smiled back.  An large, older man in a suit that fit him perfectly stepped up to the table.  Behind him came a lovely, young, Asian woman in short, designer dress that clung to her slender body and unnaturally large breasts.  I recognized him as Penrose Brook, the elder statesman of the biggest bank in the world.  An opportunity to meet Penrose Brook and I’m dressed like Orphan Annie.

“Congratulations, Evan!” he said.

“Thank you, Penny.  I appreciate that,” Evan said as he slid out from his seat to stand.  I started sliding out the other side of the banquet only to see him signal me to stay put.  By then, I was in that awkward state of neither sitting nor standing so I elected to stand.  Evan and Penrose shook hands.  I waited to be introduced.  The Asian woman studied the floor as if the carpeting were something she was considering for her home.

“Your father made the right choice,” Penny said.

“Penrose, you are the worst liar,” said Evan and he smiled.  Penny chuckled uneasily at first and then heartily.  He eyed me out of the corner of his eye but never turned toward me.  They both acted as if the Asian woman didn’t exist.

“I’m sure you’ll make your father proud,” Penny said finally.  They shook hands again and the couple walked away without either of us females being included in anyway.

“With any luck!” Evan said after them as he slid back into the banquette.  I was left standing and even the martini and two sips of a second couldn’t dampen the shame that reddened my face.  I sat down quickly.

“Am I not good enough to introduce?” I asked, getting redder by the minute.  He looked at me and smiled.

His voice took on a gossipy whisper.  “Penrose?  No.  You’ve got to understand, he’s married but not to her.”

“So why would he bring her to a public place and stop by your table and…”

He looked like his answer had barbs on it and didn’t want to come out.  “It’s a weird game.  He’s letting the world know he’s playing around but not admitting it outright.”  He shrugged as if that was the best he could do.

I chewed on that for a moment.  “Is that what you’re doing?”  He tilted his head at me.

“Are you telling the world that you’re fooling around but you don’t want to admit it publicly?  I was left standing there.”

“First of all, a lady never stands when someone comes over to the table unless the visitor is an older fe-“

“I…” I was having trouble swallowing this cavalier attitude toward relationships.  I had to admit to myself that I didn’t have any such qualms in the storage room but, somehow this was different.  It made the martinis and sea urchin want to revisit my throat.  “… I… need to leave.”  I started out of the banquette.  He took my arm.

“Maggie,” he said soothingly.

I shook him off and hurried away.  “Now!”

At the front of the hotel, I watched the paparazzi arm themselves before they realized nobody had just walked out of the entrance.  I checked my wallet and saw that a cab ride from Central Park to the East Village was going to eat into my plans for feeding myself for the week so I took off down the street.  I could catch a bus.

Rather than just walk, I fumed.  I couldn’t get the look on the faces of the people in the restaurant out of my mind.  His world was a place in which I couldn’t exist.  I clearly was allowed to visit because everyone understood that Evan Luther had to have toys but I was an alien who couldn’t breathe the rarified air of his planet for more than a few minutes.  On the street, I blended.  I stormed south making it two blocks before a distinctly European horn got my attention.  It was Evan in his Vernal Bug or whatever it was he was driving.

He stopped his car in the lane and ran over to me.  The drivers behind him let him know what they thought of that decision.  He put a hand on my arm and I shrugged it off and kept walking.

“Maggie, please!”

I stopped long enough to look at him.  He seemed earnest enough but I kept walking, grumbling about believing in fairy tales.

“Please?  Let me give you a ride.”  I almost couldn’t hear him because the horns were reaching a crescendo punctuated by the staccato curses of the drivers blowing them.

My injured pride would have gotten me down to the thirties before I wished I had killed my tantrum before it started and finished the evening the way it started: a knight in shining armor, a red rose, and a chariot.  If only to stop the infernal horns, I halted my charge and turned to face him.

“That was humiliating.”

“I tried to explain.  Penny and his wife have a – “

“Not just that.  The whole thing.  I ran out of etiquette.  At my parents’ house, you grabbed what you could before my father and brothers stuffed all the food down their gullets while you were politely passing dishes.  Besides,”  I grabbed my baggy pants, “I’m not sure I was dressed well enough to empty the trash at that place.”

“I didn’t think.  I’m sorry.  I thought it would be a fun experience for you, not some form of torture.”

The part of me that wanted the fairy tale to continue and the part that wanted to jump his bones right here in the street made me think my plan over.  He was doing his best Labrador Retriever look at me and I gave in again.  I guess I was capable of standing up for myself about three minutes a day and I had run my quota.  He offered a hand and I took it.

“Where do you live?” he asked as we jumped into the spaceship.

“Is that how you were planning to get into my pants?” I asked.  He laughed.  “East Village,” I said pointing south.  He nodded and started forward.  He found his way through the traffic, taking so many turns I wasn’t sure which direction we were heading in.  I realized we were heading toward the Hudson River not the East River where I lived.

“Where are we going?”

“I want to show you something.”

“Is this going to require me to pretend I like jellyfish gonad ice cream?”  He smiled and nodded his head for me to look toward the direction we were driving.  Ahead of us were the mid-town piers.  A ship that was closer in size to an ocean liner than to a yacht loomed ahead.  He pulled out his phone.

“I’m two blocks away,” he said and dropped the phone.  Lights went on the rear of the boat and a gate opened on the rear deck.  A ramp moved onto the pier allowing Evan to drive onto the yacht without stopping.  The boat had a garage for his car!  The colors even matched.

“Home,” he said and smiled.

A uniformed crew member held my door.  “Welcome to the Excelsior,” he said and smiled.

I felt like I had walked into a castle.  Evan waited for me to join him and we stepped into an elevator.  The buttons were “A” through “H” with “G” lit up.  I did the math.  “Seven levels?” I asked.

“Decks… actually, if you count the very top, there are eight.”  He pressed “C” and we slid effortlessly up.  The elevator was a beautiful combination of agate floor, soft lit ceiling, and walnut burl walls.  I could have stayed in it for a day or two and been happy.

The doors opened up and we entered an open area with a pool only about two lanes smaller than the one I used to swim in at the Y.  Around the pool were white and red lounges, canopied beds in reality that beckoned to tired feet.   The end of the pool was a hot tub and beyond that an outdoor fireplace with casual seating.

“Be it ever so humble.  There’s a dance floor upstairs that pulls back to reveal a smaller pool.”

“It’s A Wonderful Life!”  I was stunned.  He nodded. “That’s where I got the idea.”

“We can accommodate sixty guests with a crew of about the same number.”

“Oh, my god,” was all I could say.  Evan gave me a down-home smile that warmed me even more than the surroundings.  He escorted me to the fire place.  I can’t say I was surprised that the evening was drawing to a close near a bed and wasn’t sure how I felt about it but when he loosened his tie and slid off his jacket, I knew.

“So this is where your conquests happen.”

“Conquest is such an ugly word,” he said and went to the bar near the fireplace.  “Care for anything?”

“I get a choice now?”

“Did you like that martini or not?”

“It was the best part of the evening,” I answered.

“So far,” he admonished and mixed, based on the slices of cucumber he pulled out of the fridge, more of the dog that bit me.  He brought us both a martini.  “Now, let’s salute the future, forget the past.  It’s just you and me right here, right now.”

That must be his favorite line, I thought but decided to be a full participant.  I sipped the drink, every bit as good as the restaurant, put the glass down carefully and raised up on my toes to kiss his lips.  Any doubt about what I wanted was gone.  I always had tomorrow for self-loathing.

He seemed surprised by my boldness.  He scrambled to find a resting place for his drink as I undid his tie.    “We have time,” I whispered.  I wanted a long kiss that told me a story and I was going to have it.   Our lips searched each other as we moved to the closest canopied bed.  I sank down pulling him with me.   Tongues tested our defenses and the kiss took us to wonderland.  I didn’t even feel him unbuttoning my shirt but his hands on my belly set me on fire.  He moved his hand up to my breasts, there was no tentative, maddeningly light touch, just taking.

Somehow, we made it out of most of our clothing.  I tamed his rush by tantalizing him with my touch and my lips while I flipped him onto his stomach.

“What are you doing?”  I answered by dragging my nails softly in random patterns down his muscular back.  He bucked but I held ground.  I continued down over his hard ass, between his powerful legs.  My breasts traced my way back up his body.  He groaned and flipped me off him.  He was on me before I could react.  His kiss found my neck, my breasts, my navel, and my center.  I grasped the comforter, the pillows, his head for support as he teased and tormented me to three gasping orgasms before I pushed him away to save my sanity.

He worked his way back up to me and gave me a kiss full of my musk as he entered me.  It was hot, passionate and yet controlled.  The evening was devoured by the two of us not being able to have enough of each other.

We lay side by side trying to pull our souls back into our bodies.  “Maggie?” he asked.

“I know,” I answered not able to think about anything but the pleasure my body was feeling.  I fell asleep.

When I woke, he was up on one elbow and looking at me.  “I have to ask you something.”

Was he was proposing, which was insane?  I would have said yes which was more insane.  Or was he going to ask if I minded taking a cab home?

“I have a proposition for you.”

“A little late for that, isn’t it?” I asked and offered a soft laugh.

“I’m really… You… You’re not like the women I usually spend time with.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“It’s good.  I mean it’s really good.  I saw your diplomas and certificates and applications.  You’re quite brilliant.”

“Not according to…”  He put a finger to my lips.  Was he offering me a position at his company?  Was I going to leapfrog over the man who rejected me before?

“There’s a staged event for the company introducing the new director of Mergers and Acquisitions to the Wall Street gurus.  I guess what I want to say is I have the power and you have the brains.  I need you by my side to feed me information.  I’ll be expected to discuss business deals and target companies that Luther Brothers is considering and I have no background for that.  I studied law not business.”

“So you need a Cyrano to feed you lines.”

“Yes!  I need someone I can trust who knows what’s going on.  My father, my cousin, the whole business community will be watching to see if I am the right choice.”

“Why didn’t you become a lawyer?”

“My father yanked me out of school in the middle of my third year.  He wanted me in the business.  He wanted me to take over for him.  I tried to talk him out of it but… well, as you can see, I ended up trying to prove I shouldn’t be in the business by being the prodigal son.”

Those were Tom’s words!  “What was wrong with being a corporate attorney?”

“I was going to specialize in Wall Street reform.  I thought I could do some good.”

Could this be true?  If so, he hid it well behind his lifestyle.

“I’ve been thinking that I might be able to turn the company around.  It’ll be slow like changing the course of a full-speed-ahead super tanker but I think it’ll be worth it.”

“Okay, I’m confused.  The sex…”

“No, it was totally innocent… you know what I mean.  You were amazing.  And when I saw your credentials I realized I had a rough cut diamond of amazing proportions just waiting for someone to shape it into a thing of beauty.”

“What do you mean, ‘shape me into a thing of beauty’?”

“If I show up with someone like you, it will be obvious that you’re there to help me get through the event.  I need you to look like the sort of woman I’m normally seen with.”

“Someone like me!  Did you just say that?”  I scooted off the bed.  “You want me to impersonate a bimbo so no one will suspect your answers are coached?”  I stepped into my pants.  I needed a long soak in a hot tub far away from him.  As I dressed, he launched several different approaches to try to erase his words and start again.

“I’ll pay you ten thousand for the night.  Of course, the clothes and everything else are yours to keep.”

I pulled on my sweater and marched out.  Naked, he followed.  I punched the call button for the elevator.  He grabbed my arm.  “Please!”

“I am not a whore.”

“I never said that.  I’m just trying to do the right thing,” he said to my back.  When the elevator arrived, I pressed “G” and it took me to the garage.   The ding of the arriving elevator must have wakened the crew member who greeted me.

“I didn’t get the call.  I’m sorry, I’ll turn the car around,” he stammered as he tried to pretend he wasn’t half asleep.

“How do I get onto the pier?”

It took a second but it dawned on him what I meant and he led me to a ramp that he lowered so I could walk onto the pier.  I must not have been the first woman to leave in less than a good mood.  “Goodnight, Miss,” were the last words I heard from the ship.  It was going to be a long walk but at least I was free of Evan Luther.




It wasn’t possible to wake up feeling worse than I did the next morning.  My feet were sore, I was angry with my pride for making me walk all the way home, and self-loathing had set in with a special ferocity.  I unwedged myself from the bathtub in which I must have slept and glanced at the mess in the mirror.  Nothing good looked back at me.  Could I at least say I was wiser?  Judging by my eagerness to jump into his arms every time he opened them, I would say the answer was no.  But that was yesterday.  I’m a new person today, I thought then laughed at my utter simplicity as I splashed water on the tear-stained tragedy that was my face.

As I dried off my face, Jo sidled into the room.  “Remember when we lived above that colicky little newborn that cried constantly?  Last night I thought a new baby had moved into our bathtub.”

“I know.  I’m so sorry.”

“So, an evening with Mister Majesto isn’t quite the piece of heaven it’s made out to be?”

I shook my head and we stepped into the kitchen where, thank the heavens, Jo had made coffee, a refrigerator scramble, and muffins.  I was ravenous and dug in.  So much for my plan to starve myself to death.  Dressed in my best wife-beater t-shirt and sweats so thread bare that they would be declared a public nuisance if I wore them outside, I shoveled food in as quickly as I could.

“There was a moment there,” I said through a mouthful of food, “when I thought he really cared.  Hook, line, and sinker?  I swallowed it right up to the reel.”

“Are we talking about what he said or sex?” Jo asked.  I looked at her and we both laughed causing bits of food to fly out of my mouth.  As I wiped the counter clean I said, “Both.”

“Chalk one up on the character building column,” I said.  God, that column’s full.  “The moral is, ‘stick to your own kind, one of your own kind’.”  Maudlin thoughts threatened to take over so I searched for something else to talk about.   It dawned on me that, even though it was my day off, the café should be open.  “What are you doing home?” I asked Jo.

“Didn’t you see those signs?  The city’s doing some sewer thing today.  Since baked goods and coffee don’t go well with sewer, instant holiday.”  She sipped her coffee and nibbled on a muffin.  “And no, I’m not happy about it.  My bills don’t sleep so neither can I.”

I scraped the remnants of the eggs from the pan onto my plate and was just sitting down when there was a knock on the door.

“If it’s a man, I’m going to kill him just out of principle,” I said.  Jo and I both took the four steps to the door and answered it.  There, hiding behind an elaborate bouquet of exotic flowers, was a man dressed in what can only be described as a stunning, subtly pinstriped suit.  My heart sank as Evan peeked out from behind the bouquet.

“If last night isn’t proof that I need help…” he said and offered the flowers.  I didn’t take them but Jo did.  Neither of us got out of the doorway.

“Good morning, Jo.  I saw the signs outside your shop yesterday so I assumed you would be home.  Maggie, I really, really need to talk to you.”

“Upping your offer?” I asked.

“Is that what it would…”

I elbowed Jo out of the way and slammed the door on the word “take.”  He knocked again.  “Maggie, please.  I’m an idiot.  I apologize.  You are so different from anyone I’ve been around that I don’t know how to act.  Please, give me a chance.”  I looked at Jo for guidance but she was busy admiring the arrangement.

If he had offered to fly me away to a Pacific paradise for a week, I’d be on the plane before he was but he wanted me to impersonate someone I wasn’t.  To fit into an alien world filled with false people who hid their alien fangs behind false smiles. It just wasn’t how I pictured my future, but I stepped aside.  Jo didn’t.  “She cried all night.  Is there a reason I should let you in?”

It stumped him for a minute.  “Because I’m cute?” he asked in a way that suggested he didn’t know he was way beyond cute.  Jo, my watch dog, my cheerleader, my other self, spit out a laugh and stepped aside.  “As good a reason as any,” she said.

We saw him into our living room which was also my bedroom.  I hurried ahead, threw my clothes from the day before onto the unmade bed and lifted it up into the wall unit.  That left a messy room that spoke of two single women who worked way too many hours.  We had never been embarrassed by our apartment before but we both scurried around to make it look presentable.

Evan walked in as nonchalantly as he had in the restaurant.  He didn’t act as if he was in danger of catching some horrible disease, he just waited until we indicated a spot and he sat.  Jo put the flowers in a vase and I perched on the arm of a chair across from Evan.  I looked at Evan and found that he was looking at or down my t-shirt.  It dawned on me that I was showing a little too much of me for a meeting, informal or not.  I sat there and dared him to continue looking.  He did.  A part of me was very pleased.  I straightened and crossed my arms and legs creating as protective a shell as I could.  “It’s your show,” I said.

“I mean it, you really are different from anyone I’ve been around.  I mean you’re beautiful and sexy and smart but I could tell by the way you spoke, by the fact that you’re hiding…”

“She is hiding,” Jo said.  He pointed at her and smiled.  I glared. I wasn’t hiding much right now and wished my clothes weren’t hiding behind the fold down bed.  I didn’t know if I wanted to beat him to death or rip off his clothes.

“I need someone with your education to be, like you said, Cyrano to my Cristian.  I need someone to whisper their inspiration to me as I court the business community.”  He paused and looked at me.  I found that my arms had slipped down but didn’t care.

“Without you, the world is going to find out I’m a complete idiot when it comes to finance.”

“She’s the right person for that,” Jo said and sat on the other arm of the chair.

“But you only want me if I walk around in a glamour suit,” I said, the arms came back up.

“Let’s not confuse our ‘wants’,” he said.  “I want you right now and that has nothing to do with how you’re dressed or how you behave in social functions.”  He smiled the smile that already had a foothold inside my defenses.  “I also want your brains.  You clearly have more on the ball than a waitress who spills coffee.”

My defenses roared back to life.  “You were the one walking…”

He held out his hands to slow me down.  “I’m sorry.  Perhaps I was inside the café’s…”


“Let’s not get bogged down in yesterday.  Let’s get back to what you’re proposing,” said Jo.

“I need you by my side.”  He said it with a finality that lacked artifice.  “But…”

Here it comes.

“…you have to look like the women I’m normally seen with.”

The room fell to as much silence as a third floor walkup in the East Village can experience.

“That means we would have to go shopping, go to a salon for makeup and hair and I would give you a few tips on how to behave.”

Jo chuckled.  I gaped at her.  Her chuckle grew to a full laugh.  Between laughs and gasps for air she said, “Oh, I want to see this.  Maggie in a salon getting lessons in decorum while someone is applying false nails.”  She laughed some more.  I looked at my ragged nails, my ragged sweats.  I had already seen my ragged face in the mirror.  I understood why I needed to be in disguise.  Clearly, I wasn’t at his side because of my looks.  The less spotlight I got, the better.

“You mentioned ten thousand dollars last night.”  He nodded. “My price is a bit more than that.”  I let that sit in.  If I was going whore myself out, it was going to be worthwhile and if he was disappointed, he didn’t show it.  “You pay off Jo’s debts and buy the space she’s renting, in her name.”  The price had jumped well into six figures.

He looked relieved as if I had asked for a shoulder rub.  “Then you’ll do it?”  I nodded and promised myself that I would keep this strictly business from now on even as I leaned forward and let his eyes wander down my shirt.  I was a lost soul and he was a devil dragging me… somewhere.

“Maggie!”  Jo said.  “What are you doing?”

“I’m finally in a position to help you,” I said to her and turned to him.  He smiled and without knowing the amount he was agreeing to said, “Deal.”  He held out his hand.  I took it and turned expectantly to Jo.  She started to speak several times but finally put her hand on top of ours.  “One for all,” I said.




Considering I had no sleep and fifteen minutes to get ready, the morning was a positive change to most of my mornings.  I had no idea why he believed I could help him—I was fairly certain it was his little head making the decision—but if he really was going to pull Jo out of her financial hole, I was game.

It started in boutique clothing stores around my neighborhood and the Village.  He bought a few outfits, one of which was a short, sleeveless dress and medium heels.  Thank god I shaved a few days ago.  Heels! I certainly have worn them before but never got used to the pain.  Each step reminded me I was in doing it for Jo.

Even though I’m sure my taste appalled him, he gave the impression that what I selected was fine but could I try this on.  For him.  When I came out of the dressing room in his selection, he would brighten and tell me how beautiful I was.  Considering I was on my guard against his magnetism, I was amazed to find how thrilled his flattery made me.

In the last shop, I looked at myself in the mirror.  It was me and I had to admit, the me in the mirror was kind of sexy.  I hadn’t seen that version of me since a weird double date Jo and I went on senior year.  I can’t remember the guy’s name but I remember the egocentric, demanding evening.  I searched for Evan in the mirror and found him flirting with the saleswoman.  When I turned around, he didn’t bother to stop.  The woman looked at me self-consciously but Evan touched her chin and told her not to worry.

I couldn’t blame the woman so she had nothing to fear from me but I sure could blame him.  As we left the store I thought over what to say.  Surely there was something that would make him see how hurtful that was.  Then I wondered why I cared.  I had such a battle going on inside my head that I didn’t notice that our next stop was a waxing salon.

I tried waxing at home once when I was a teenager.  Once!  I decided no amount of beauty was worth that experience a second time so it was with some trepidation that I didn’t run out of the shop.  Evan and the owner joked about something that didn’t seem to be about me.  He left me with a wink and I followed a young woman to a back room.  “You’re boyfriend paid for a Brazilian wax.”  She showed me an explanatory drawing in case the horror of it wasn’t clear to me.  “You have got to be kidding!  If God wanted me to have no hair down there, he would have made me that way!” I said.  “He did,” she said with a delightful lilt to her voice that made me want to think it might not be all that bad.

I so doubted that my financial insight would be clouded by pubic hair, I refused.  After all, the function I was to attend wasn’t at a nudist colony.  I pointed at the bikini wax because I thought I might be able to live through that and, after a short discussion and with some disappointment, she handed me off to an underling.  Pain is such a relative thing but having hair ripped out of your body is a pretty good definition of it in my book.  I will say that afterward I was thankful I wasn’t wearing pants.

On the way to a nail salon, Evan was a gentleman.  He asked me if everything was okay.  I felt like telling him that his dreams of me hairless as a newborn would remain dreams but kept my mouth shut because millions of women did this regularly and I had to be at least as tough as they were.  Besides, my natural state hadn’t been a deterrent to him the night before.  That thought started a chain reaction of sexual reminiscences that ran roughshod over the pain.

We talked business.  Each answer I gave seemed to delight him.  I’d have to tell Jo that my obsession with the markets was paying off.  We were in his town car.  The driver dutifully kept his eyes to the road.  Evan spoke in his soft tones about business while traversing my body with his eyes.  To his credit, he never assumed he could touch me other than the lightest touch while helping me in and out of the car.

The commotion Evan’s appearance made at the nail salon caused was second only to their amazement at the condition of my nails.  I didn’t understand their language but I sure understood their scorn.  Evan picked the colors and told them what he wanted then left me to their devices.  The vibrating chair while my feet and hands were pampered made me forget about the waxing.  I didn’t know if a foot massage is always part of a pedicure but I was hoping it would go on forever.  Different colored gels were massaged into my feet and hands.  The pedicurist earned her keep working on my calloused, beaten up feet.  Fortunately the complaints were in her native tongue.  By the time they were done, my calves, feet, and hands looked like they belonged to a model.  I walked out of the salon feeling like someone special.  Evan stood by his car with a lovely, silk scarf, which he held out for me.  I held up my nails for inspection while he loosely tied the scarf around my neck.  “You look so tasty,” he said and kissed me softly on my neck just below my ear.  “Lunch?” he asked.  At that moment, I could have had him for lunch and not be left wanting.

Fear of a repetition of last night’s restaurant filled me but I kept my mouth shut.  The driver whisked us off to a tiny Asian place on Broadway, downtown.  The windows of the place were filled with roasted ducks, geese, chickens, and half a pig.  My fears disappeared.  We sat at one of the few tables and ordered by pointing at pictures.  I had roast pork and noodles.  Just the aroma made me happy.  The flavor, the tiny, everydayness of the place, and the man sitting across from me felt heaven sent.

“Slumming?” I asked.

He smiled, wiping a noodle off his chin with his fingers.  “This is one of my favorite places downtown.  I like the company I keep here.”  He indicated the roasted birds in the window.

“With one exception, this has been…,” I said after washing down another bite of the remarkable pork with jasmine tea.  I was trying to find a superlative that suited but he interrupted.

“Beautiful.”  He held my eyes with his and touched my hand.  I blushed.  Keeping this business was going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

We jumped into the car.  “Two more stops,” he said.  Evidently the he and the driver were connected telepathically because I never heard Evan give him directions.  We started uptown.  “You’re going to love this place.  You’ll get a facial, some makeup advice and your hair.  After that, one stop for the gown that will set you apart from all the women attending this gala.”  I expected a trip up to fifty-seventh, but we pulled up in the Flat Iron district.  The place was modern, had the feel of wealth and vivacity.  Evan and I were met as if we were long-lost, dear friends.

Before I was swept off to the innards of the place, Evan took me gently by the arm and kissed me.  The cosmetician ‘aahed’ and I fell for him.

Somehow, I thought a facial was something like a pedicure, all sweetness and light.  I had no idea that, like waxing, it was a holdover from the Spanish Inquisition.  I was squeezed, abraded, and plucked.  It ended with a mask that cooled my abused skin.  Once the mask was off, the makeup began.  Two, sometimes three people would come in and express their feelings about this color or that.  Every time I tried to crane my neck I was told that I would see soon enough.  When they let me see a mirror, a truly attractive, auburn-haired young woman stared back at me.  I would have touched my face to see if it was really me but they saw that one coming and stopped me.

They loaded up a bag with cosmetics and explained every step I would have to go through to duplicate this look.  I imagined my tips going up at work.  I imagined having enough money to take an extra day off a month.  I imagined the look on Evan’s face.

With some concern about the time, evidently my face had been more of a challenge than they had planned for, they shooed me into another part of the salon where I met Felicia.

“Aren’t you gorgeous,” was how she greeted me.  I could get used to a place like this.  She led me to a chair in front of a mirror so I could gaze, Narcissus-like, at my reflection.

“Here’s you tea,” a petit tea cup was placed on a table within easy reach of my right hand.  She offered wireless earbuds.  “What kind of music would you prefer?”  I must have gawked at her.  She smiled at me the way one does at infants for being so innocent and handed me a menu of stations that included everything from urban to meditative.

I must have looked confused.  “So you don’t have to talk,” she said flatly.

“I’d rather talk,” I said.  It must have been an unusual request.  She didn’t brighten because she was already as upbeat a person as she could be but she softened.  She looked me over more critically.  “Evan wants you blonde.”  She looked around to see if anyone was listening in.  “Personally, I don’t see why, but…”

As she was saying that, a very well-known actress walked by and smiled.  I smiled back but my brain was wrapping around the words Felicity had just spoken.

“Blonde?”  Felicity shrugged and pulled a cape out and began to fasten it around my neck.  I put up one of my beautifully manicured hands and stopped her.  “Evan wants you to bleach my hair blonde?!”  I was incredulous.  I had fallen for the kiss and the fact that everything so far had made me look like I was someone.  Someone to be with, someone to reckon with.  But now he wanted me to look like someone else.  I was ready to storm out of the place, walk home barefoot undoing all that had been done.  I tried to rise but Felicity was in my way.

“I’ve got to go!”  She nodded as if she understood.  “He only goes out with blondes.  I think he’s missing out if you ask me…” she said and brushed back her dark, pixie-cut hair.

“I…I’m not…”

“Tell you what,” Felicity said.  “Let me clean you up a little bit and you can take this beautiful you out to discuss it with him.  My hands won’t go near the chemicals.”

In half an hour, I came out to the reception area.  My makeup was less than perfect because I had redone it after Felicity was through with me but it wasn’t bad.  My hair was vibrant, and for the first time in longer than I could remember, I had a cut that wasn’t just me trimming in the bathroom mirror.

The look on Evan’s face made me want to shoulder my way past him and see if I could find someone on the street who liked what they saw.  He turned to lambast the manager but I interceded.  “I wouldn’t let Felicity do it” I said and stormed past him to the door.  In the hallway, we passed a starlet I had seen on some television show about starlets.   “She’s blonde.  Why don’t you hire her?”

“Maggie!  Come on.  I feel like I spend more time chasing after you and explaining than anything else.”

“That should tell you something.”

“It tells me I backed the wrong horse.”  That stopped me.

“Do you want to know what the problem is?”  I didn’t wait for an answer.  “If I dye my hair, when I look in the mirror for however long it takes for the bleached blonde to disappear, I won’t be me.  I’ll be the fake me you created.”  He started to say something but I stopped him.  “Listen, Evan Luther.  I like you.  I like us, but you keep telling me how I’m not quite right.  I’m the first to agree…but it hurts.  It’s like your father telling you that you’re a disappointment.”

His face reddened.  For the first time, I was afraid he was going to hit me.  I watched him physically take control of himself.  “We have a deal.  I pay for Jo’s café and you do this for me.  Part of doing this for me is going blonde.  I only date blondes.  Check out any tabloid.  On occasion I might be seen with a brunette movie star for a publicity stunt for her, but everyone knows that I…Date…Blondes!”

I thought about Jo and the café.  I thought about Evan in my arms.  I thought about not being good enough.  “Isn’t there another way?”  It was a whiny plea from the old Maggie.  He stared at me for a minute, glanced at his watch.  In a brisk walk, he took my arm and we dashed out of the building and into the ever-present town car.  The drive to the next stop was done in a hostile hush.  I wished I had those earbuds now so I could turn up the volume and drown out the silence.

The car stopped in front of Bergdorf.  Evan handed me his business card.  “Give this card to Arianne in designer collections.  She’s expecting you.  I’ll be up as soon as I can.”

Dutifully, I made my way to Arianne.  When I handed her the card, she was visibly shocked that someone like me would be Evan’s latest plaything.  She shut off whatever was going on in her mind, gave me her best salesperson smile and led me to a dressing room.

“Did you have anything in mind?” she asked.  I felt so guilty for standing my ground about my hair that I decided I would have no mind when it came to the dress for the gala.

“I’m in your hands,” I said and smiled as best I could.  Twenty minutes of me trying on dresses later, she clapped her hands together and said, “Yes!”  I looked in the mirror and had to admit the way the fabric clung in the right places and flowed in others was breathtaking.  I took a look at the price tag.  That was breathtaking.  I thought my brain had added a zero, but it was over six thousand dollars.  The enormity of what I was contracted to do hit me.  I was supposed to lead him through the minefields of a business that wouldn’t even let me go through their doors.

Evan came into the dressing room and stopped dead when he saw me.  “Maybe I should start dating redheads,” he said.  I blushed.  The hostility and hurt was gone.  He had a box in his hands which he handed to the woman.  “Arianne, you have outdone yourself.”  The blush grew.  To me he said, “I’ve found another way.”  He opened the box and pulled out a long, beautiful, blonde wig.  Arianne and I both gasped.

The box was replete with a nylon cap to dampen down my hair, and enough bobby pins to hold down a Zeppelin intent on floating away.  Arianne and another saleswoman she called in got me into the thing.  They stood back and nodded approvingly.  I looked in the mirror.  It was like some blonde, rich-bitch doing her impression of me was staring back.  I looked at Evan who was charming the younger, blonde saleswoman out of her senses.  I watched his smile start to undo her inhibitions.  I bridled.  He turned back to me and nonchalantly asked “Does that work for you?”  Nothing about what I just saw, or the wig worked for me but I simply nodded and mumbled, “Taking one for the team.”

Arianne came over to help me with the wig.  “Leave the wig on,” Evan ordered.  He dismissed the younger woman after giving her his card.  I wanted to tell her that he wasn’t worth it but there was no way I could say that with the force of truth behind it.  Arianne helped me out of the dress while Evan watched.  The fit of the dress didn’t allow anything under it.  Though Arianne seemed unabashed, I was beyond embarrassed.  Evan asked her to step out.

He closed in softly with his smile leading the way.  He touched my shoulder and ran his hand down my arm.  I shivered but I slipped around him for my clothes.  Had it been me instead of the blonde he was trying to seduce, had I not witnessed the playboy at play with the saleswoman, I would have succumbed.  The idea of semi-public sex with him was thrilling.  But the blonde didn’t want sex with him, she was all business.  And I was hurt.  He tried again.  I slipped into my bra and panties.  His hand slid along my waist.  I smiled at him but said, “Don’t we still have a lot to do?”  His answer to rebuff was to walk away, evidently.  Once I was dressed, I unpinned the wig and pulled of the nylon cap, shook my hair which returned to its shape like it had been out for a walk in the park.  Thank you Felicity.




We returned to his yacht.  In a study off his suite on the penultimate deck, he showed me a desk with files, articles and a computer just chock full of information about Luther Brothers, the companies they owned and the ones they were looking to own.  As visually intimidating as it was, I was excited.  This was the work I was good at.

Instead of leaving, Evan sat next to me.  I thought he would just distract me by touching or kissing me but he sat ramrod straight like a schoolboy eager to learn the day’s lesson.  I found that much of what I was reading was information I already knew.  I had studied Luther Brothers backwards and forwards before my fated interview so I breezed through most of that.  Evan seemed shocked at the depth of my knowledge about his father, the other executives of the company, and his cousin, Jackson Kent.  Evan asked questions I assumed were his way of checking up on me and I answered them well enough that he sat back, shaking his head, with a very satisfied look on his face.

We got past his company and started with the revenue projections for the companies Luther was interested in.  All the companies were familiar including a small start-up that Tom had touted a year before.  I dug into the one on the top of the pile.  It was a small company with ties to Harvard that had been around for a few generations.  After perusing the company reports I said, “Clearly, this company is stuck in the mud of, that’s-how-my-dad-did-it, thinking,” I said.  Evan leaned in close.  “Why do you say that?”

I pointed at the open report on the desk then at the laptop screen.  “Their earnings history for the last six years is either stagnate or slightly down.  Their expenditures on R and D have gone down every year for the last ten years.  Pay for the executives hasn’t gone up in…fifteen years!  That tells me that the execs are trying to figure out where to cut costs to keep the place afloat.  Their product line is sound and, with some tweaks, they could be in a good position to capitalize on it globally.  Put a fire under their research department, fill the executive offices with people who want to move the company into this century, and you might have a cash cow on your hands.”

Evan looked at all the lines I pointed to then up at me.  He smiled broadly.  “I just looked at the bottom line and didn’t see any reason why we should bother with them.”

I shrugged. “The bottom line rarely tells you the story.”

I worked a third of my way down the stack showing him which companies, in my opinion, had a future and which should be left to the jackals that paced hungrily on the sidelines while Luther Brothers decided to pounce or not.  I was in my element.

“How do you know this?” he asked.

“How does the son of Harold Luther not know this?” I asked.  I didn’t mean to be harsh, I just couldn’t understand it.  Evan took the question hard.  He sat back, his face became the mask of the blasé playboy.  He rose and walked over to a built in book case filled with leather bound books and antique bric-a-brac and pulled down a collection of Napoleonic medallions mounted in a shadow box and pretended to study them.  I desperately wanted taking back what I said but couldn’t think of way that didn’t make it worse.

“You know what we should do?” he asked without lifting his eyes from the medallions.  I suddenly felt very out-of-place.  “Let’s call it a day.  Take this stuff home with you, the laptop included, and keep working on it.”  He looked at me.  It felt like I was a servant who had spoken out of turn and was being dismissed.  “And tomorrow night, let’s try out your new persona in public.  Wear the blue dress.”  He flicked his fingers in the direction of the desk and said, “There’s a case for the computer and another for the files.  You clearly are the right person for the job.”  He had trouble meeting my eyes as he backed up a few steps, attempted a smile, and left.

The Evan I knew from yesterday, the Evan from this morning in my apartment, the Evan trying to take advantage of my nudity in Bergdorf’s was gone.  I may have had my problems with that Evan but this Evan, the keeping it professional Evan, was someone I wasn’t sure I could deal with.  Glumly I packed.  The physical, intellectual, and emotional weight of what I took on staggered me as I made my way off his palace and into the town car that awaited me.




When Jo got home, she found me buried in my studies.  I had changed back into my usual garb but I hadn’t washed the makeup off and, even if I wanted to which I didn’t, I couldn’t undo the cut Felicity had given me.

“Look at you!”

I assumed she meant me knee deep in financial reports.  “He really does expect me to know something!” I was excited.  I was also cramped from sitting too long and hungry because pork and noodle soup only fills one’s stomach for less time than I had spent without food.

“That hair cut is to die for!”  She walked around me appraising.  “And is that makeup on your face?  Pretty soon, you’re going to be too good for this place.”  She smiled and went into the kitchen, washed her hands, and pulled things out of the refrigerator.  “What do you feel like?”

“I don’t know what I feel like.  I’m involved with a guy that wants me to be something I’m not, yet I’m so damn attracted to him I can’t stop myself from wanting him back.  I don’t know if, after I get him comfortably ensconced in Luther Brothers, he’ll ever want to see me again.  I mean I’m clearly not his type.  You should see the blonde wig I have to wear.”

“Blonde wig?”  She stopped chopping whatever she was chopping and looked at me.  “Maggie, please don’t do this for me.  I’m mean, I love you for it but I’ll love you just as much if you back out now.”

“I’m not…I’m doing this because this,” I pointed at the mess around me again, “is what I should be doing.  You’ve been right all along.  I’ve been hiding my light under a bushel of self-hate.  When I started doing this today, I felt like I was floating on air.”

“How does that fit in with Evan Luther?”

“I don’t know.  I’m enjoying this research enough and, if he lives up to his word, there is a pretty good payoff around the corner…I think I can separate the job from him.”

She gave me one of her oh-come-on looks.

“I said, think.”

I ate her fabulous dinner without tasting it as I sniffed through the data provided.  By one in the morning, my financial muscles were tiring and I was contemplating sleep but my bedroom was covered in paper sorted into piles whose importance were only clear to me.   I pulled out my pillows and blanket, snuck into the bedroom, and settled down on the floor next to Jo’s single bed to dream about potential both corporate and personal.

Evan woke me with a call the next morning.  He said the car would be by at seven-thirty that evening to pick me up for dinner.  He reminded me that I was to wear the wig and the blue dress and heels that matched.  And, without any personal note, ended the call.  I tossed and turned with how to apologize for criticizing him so directly.  Evidently, I did it loud enough to wake up Jo.  “Who are you talking to?” she demanded.

“Me?” I guessed.

“Put on your blonde wig and shut up,” she said as she rolled over and pulled a pillow over her head.

If there were no homework to do, the anticipation of the evening would have eaten me up.  I would see him again and I would be the other woman.

The blonde, in a blue dress that looked sewn on and five inch heels that felt like someone left the needles in them, waited on the stoop for the town car.  Evan arrived on the dot in his sports car.  He stepped out in a suit that spoke of nights on Lake Como.  He came around to me and offered a smile that exuded warmth and sexual innuendo.  He kissed me hard and stood back to take me in.

“You are stunning!” he said and despite myself, I loved it.

We raced off.  On the way, he had a lot of trouble taking his eyes off me which caused more close calls than were necessary.

To my horror, we arrived at the Trump Hotel.  The same valet, the same bowing and scraping, the same everything but as I was escorted to the entrance, paparazzi crowded in.  I tried to hide but Evan smiled and greeted some of them by name, asked after their families and seemed in no hurry to get us into the relative peace of the lobby.  He stood by the open doors and whispered, “You are the most beautiful woman in the world.”  I checked around to see if he was addressing another woman.

As I moved my head, the photographers snapped.  “Who’s she, Evan?”  “Who’s the lucky woman?”  I guessed it was me.

Into Jean Georges we walked.  After some cash negotiations, Andy was amazed to find a cancellation for the center table we had our first night.  I felt like such a fraud.  Andy must have recognized me.  Again, the whispering behind hands.  Eyes brazenly watched us walk in and be seated.  Perhaps my wig had slipped.  For all I knew, the back of my dress had split open.  I felt naked.  Everyone knew I was that stupid girl who dressed like a chimney sweep.  I let my blonde hair fall over my face.

“Did we have to come here?” I asked.

We situated ourselves in the banquet.  William was on his way over.  Through a smile Evan said, “There’s only one way to test this new look.  William is the real test.”

William was on my good side.  He hadn’t laughed at me when I asked if they had any wine.  He greeted us and couldn’t stop himself from checking out my cleavage.  The dress begged it, I admitted to myself.  “May I bring you something from the bar?”  He offered a bar menu.

“I’ll have the boilermaker,” Evan said.  William smiled appreciatively.

“And for the lady?”

I waited for Evan to order but Evan said nothing.  “I’ll have a Passion Whiskey Sour,” I said and gave Evan a smile.  I wanted to tell William to keep them coming because I wasn’t sure I would make it through this evening without a fair amount of lubrication.

“Very good,” William said and left.

“William never suspected,” said Evan.

“He never got his eyes above my tits.”

“Who can blame him?”  He lowered his gaze to my breasts and then back to my eyes.  “You are sensational.”  As much as I wanted to hear that, it started the whole, does-he-want-me-or-does-he-want-the-blonde debate.  The reality, I feared, was that as long as I was female, he was as devoted to me as he was to any female sitting next to him.

Our drinks came and William smiled at me a little longer than before.  But there was no inkling that he was in on our deception.  “To making this work,” I said after he left and we clinked glasses.  I was careful to take a lady-like sip and place the glass softly on the tablecloth.  There was a hint of chili in the drink, the passion I guess.  In the last three days, I had drunk more hard alcohol than I had since I was old enough to drink.  Just another step away from the world of Margaret Doullen.  William came over to take our order, I was just about to say that I would like to have anything that a small town girl could recognize as food when two attractive, beautifully attired men made their way to our table.  Evan saw them coming.  “Trial by fire,” he said while seeming to ignore everyone but me.

I recognized Harold Luther.  Tall, athletic, and grey in all the right spots.  His face was a composite of the rugged beauty of age and a few too many facials.  The younger man looked familiar but I couldn’t place him.

“Remember, ladies don’t stand up,” he whispered as he rose to greet his father and they fell in a masculine, familial embrace.  I watched the younger man’s face fall into a very familiar look of jealousy.  Now I knew him.  Jackson Kent.

“Evan!” his father said.  He nodded at me as if I might be his son’s new plush toy.  “And this is?” he asked.

“Miranda Doullen,” Evan answered.  First my hair, now my name.  I offered my hand, which Harold took softly between his.  His eyes strayed over me and returned to my eyes.  “Enchanting,” he said and smiled the Luther smile.   The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.  He said to me, “If you will pardon us, I need to steal your escort for a moment.”  Escort.  An interesting choice of word.  I took another drink and smiled my best blonde smile.

“I’ll keep her company,” Jackson offered.  He occupied Evan’s seat and turned to me.  “Miranda?” he asked.  I nodded and looked to Evan for rescue but he and his father were already moving off to a neutral corner.  I watched as their heads leaned in for a quiet conference and his father’s hand rested on Evan’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, he’ll come back in one piece…He always does.”  Was that malice I smelled in the air?  “So, Miranda…” his eyes searched my body brazenly.  “…do you speak?”

The question caught me so off guard, I almost snorted but managed a giggle instead.  “If spoken to by the right person,” I said.

He smiled broadly.  “I’m Jackson Kent, Evan’s cousin and rising star at Luther Brothers.”

I gave him the appreciative smile that he was looking for even though that introduction deserved a snort.

“And you are?”  His eyes were still focused below my neck.

“A woman having dinner with your cousin,” I said and took another drink, a bigger one this time all but draining the glass.

He seemed to appreciate the reserve my answer suggested and, for the first time, looked me in the eye.   He signaled to William who came over.  “Bring me a Kilted Samurai and whatever the lady is drinking.”

“Why not?” I said.  I could tell Jackson thought of me as prey for the taking.  Although my recent behavior suggested that I was, there was a limit.  If I were to fight him off successfully, I needed a little bottled courage.

“Tell me about you and Evan?” he asked.

“We met recently…over coffee,” I said and suppressed a laugh.

“How does he do it?  Bumping into women like you?”  I did laugh but he was looking at my breasts.   Somewhere down there he got the inspiration to ask, “And it doesn’t bother you that he’s been with every blonde in the world?”

I found myself in the weird position of defending Evan’s lifestyle.  “Maybe I’ve been with every billionaire’s son,” I said.  Where did that come from?  The wig must have been putting pressure on my brain and turning me into someone with social aplomb.  The drinks came and I downed half of mine while Jackson held his up in a toast.

Jackson’s smile disappeared.  “It’s money you’re looking for,  I understand that.”  He slipped a little closer to me and ran a hand lightly down my hair.  I stiffened, fearing that the wig would shift and angry that this man thought I was merchandise.  “I have money, too.”  His caressed my arm and came to rest on my hip.  “Or maybe it’s power.”  He moved his hand down toward the hem of my short dress.

“I’m looking for a man who doesn’t assume my body is his playground.”  I pushed his hand away.  He laughed and returned it to its starting spot and went on as if nothing had happened.

“While Evan was running around spending the family money, I was making it.   For every million he spent on some ridiculous cause, I made two.  He won’t last long in his new position.  Everyone in town knows I should be the head of M and A.”

I pushed his hand away again.  Unlike Evan who might have asked what I wanted, Jackson placed his hand on my bare leg with some force.  I jumped a little.  “You like it rough, don’t you?”  He gave no reason to believe he wanted an answer.

“Evan’s little pet projects…” he said as if he were spitting out something rotten.  “Pro bono work for the working man.  What a crock of shit that is!”  I pried his hand off my leg and made a move to slide out of the banquette.  He grabbed my arm, hard.  “You’re backing the wrong horse.  I’ll be running the company in a year and Evan will be put on an allowance that stops all this charity bullshit he’s famous for.  Evan’s been coddled all through his life.  He doesn’t have the first idea what real work is like.  I do. You’re a good looking woman.  Don’t be a fool.  Soon, I’ll own everything that Evan had.  Including you.  Maybe you should try it out and see what a real man is like.”

I relaxed and turned toward him.  I knew enough of his story to know that he had been coddled himself.  “I’d love to know what a ‘real man’ is like.  You went through Human Resources to get your job at Luther Brothers.”  Of course, he hadn’t.  His wolfish gaze diminished a bit.  “And fought your way up from the mail room.  The self-made man.  That’s what I’m looking for.”  His face reddened.

“Listen, whore, I could buy your kind by the dozen.”

“Who could you buy by the dozen, Jackson?”  Evan and Harold stood over the table.  I was never so happy to see anyone.  Like many women, I had developed a sense about which men were untrustworthy and which ones you could count on.  This man topped the list of the untrustworthy.  He scared me.

“That nosey bitch over there,” he pointed in the general direction of the restaurant.  I almost blurted out that Jackson Kent was a despicable human being and should be thrown out of the restaurant and Luther Brothers before he did something everyone would read about in the morning paper.  He was like one of those guys who stashed assault rifles and then went on a killing spree.

His assumption that I was for sale hurt.  I was in this dress and wig because of Evan’s money and I was here, at least partially, because of what he could do for Jo but whatever Evan and I had together, and I had conflicting feelings about what it really was, had nothing to do with money.

Jackson slid out of the banquette and, once he was behind Evan’s father, gave me a look that made my spine tingle.

“Evan tells me you’re going to attend our gala,” Harold said to me.  I nodded.  He held out a hand and I gave him mine again.  “I look forward to seeing you there.”  Harold and Jackson left and Evan turned to me.

“I’m sorry about Jackson.  He can be a little…” Evan searched for a word.

“Evan, please, don’t turn your back on that man,” I whispered and, though I was sure there was no way her heard me, I saw Jackson glower at me from a table across the room.


“Miranda!  At least call me by my name,” I said loud enough to be heard by nearby tables.  I must be drunk or I was starting to get into the charade.  Evan stared at me then laughed.  He nodded appreciatively.

“Miranda, my beautiful, amazing Miranda.  My father asked if I had looked over the companies on the list.  I mentioned a few in passing but I could tell he wanted more.  I gave him your analysis of the company out of Harvard word for word as if it were my own.  You should have seen the look on his face!  It was as if I were the prodigal son finally come home.   You, simply put, are amazing.  There is nothing about you that isn’t perfect.”

“Except my hair,” I said.  Instead of getting angry, he laughed and motioned for William.




Our meal was delightful.  William made suggestions, Evan countered, William countered back and the food was fabulous.  I looked at the man next to me with new appreciation.  Charities?  Pro-bono legal work?  Why wasn’t this the Evan Luther on the front of the tabloids?  Either I forgot I was in disguise or the disguise started to take me over but I found that I simply didn’t care where I was or who I was supposed to be.

He spirited us away to a wonderful, old hotel near Times Square and we walked past the photographers who called out Evan’s name and the long line of hopefuls who watched with some envy as we were let in by the bouncer without a second glance.  We joined the select few in the elevator which deposited us on the rooftop, colorful world of the glamor, youth, lights, and music that made me forget I had heels on.  I pulled Evan onto the dance floor while he removed his tie and undid the top buttons of his shirt.  We danced, we spun around, we drank, we laughed.   Our picture must have ended up on everybody’s cell phone. The attention we got, rather than making me withdraw, drew me out.  Miranda was nothing if not a party girl.  As much as I had felt out of place a few days ago, I felt like queen of the world on that rooftop.

I pulled the tie out of his pocket, looped it around his neck and pulled him to me.  The kiss came out of nerves, exhilaration, and feeling like I was free of the yoke that had held me back for so long.  I could feel the charge move from me to him.  Shocked at first, he warmed to it quickly and we made that rooftop our island for a moment.

“Where do you want to go?”

“I haven’t seen your bedroom yet,” I said and dropped my hand to his thigh.  By the time we got to his yacht, he was in a state of such sexual tension, that the elevator ride was filled with elbows and knees while we wrestled with our clothing.  We were both half undressed by the time I saw his bedroom.  It was a statement of male.  He had great taste but no female had a part in designing this room.  The bed was as big as the room I slept in.  It was covered in a mocha colored silk cashmere that made the off white pillow cases look like foam on my morning coffee.

“Take the wig off,” he said.

I knelt before him and undid his pants.  “You know you want the blonde to do this.”  His attempts at being a gentleman ended as soon as my lips met his flesh.  I teased with my lips and darting attacks with my tongue.  He moaned and begged.  My glance up met his hungry eyes.  I slid him into my mouth, my tongue twirled around him.  I felt him grab my hair.  As he pulled and caressed my hair, the pins dug and pulled.  The small pains blended into the frenzy we were building together.  His breathing changing to gasps, the head swelled in my mouth.  I pulled away and squeezed the base of his shaft hard enough to stop him.  The gasps became a growl.  He picked me up and threw me on the bed.

I don’t know what he had against my underwear but he ripped these panties off as well.  He was inside of me before I could react.  Miranda lay back and took it while Maggie cheered her on.  Just as his breathing took on an edge again, I squirmed out from under him.  He grabbed me and flipped me onto my hands and knees and plunged into me.  I let out a sound somewhere between a moan and a cry.  His hands roughly explored me as if he had never seen me before.  I was in the place between heaven and hell and didn’t know which way to turn.  He grabbed the wig and used it like a rein and I bucked.  The pins gave up and the wig came flying off taking away his leverage.  He fell back enough to come out of me.

Released from Miranda’s control, I spun around, yanked off the nylon cap, and pushed him on his back.   I guided him inside of me and leaned forward, my breasts begging for his mouth.  He obliged.  The sensation overcame my attempt at control.  I sank into a hot swirl of pleasure, feeling his release inside of me and my onrushing orgasm.  The rest of the night was spent in a cycle of rest and assault.  It was intense, it was lovely.

I woke to sunlight straining to come through the drapes on his glass doors.  I stretched and felt inklings of the pleasure of the night.  Evan came out of the bathroom, rubbing dry his hair.  I watched his tight body, the muscles working beneath the skin, his cock doing its dance as he walked.  He glided onto the rumpled bed kissed my exposed breasts, shoulders, neck, and a kiss so tender on my lips that it made me forget the concept of morning breath.

“Breakfast is almost served,” he said, “but you’re so tasty, I might cancel it.”  I sat up and he lay his head on my lap.  I stroked the smooth skin of his chest and shoulders.  This man was everything I wanted yet such a dichotomy of personas.

“Why aren’t you famous for your charitable work?  Why haven’t you pursued being a labor rights lawyer?”

He sat up and leaned against the headboard and said nothing.  He reached for my hand and held it close to him.

“Your cousin told me.  I guess he thought it would get me in his bed.”  I laughed.  “He has a strange sense of eroticism.”  I went on to repeat to him the entire discussion verbatim.  Evan grimaced.  “That guy…it’s like Julius Caesar on the Ides of March.  Don’t trust him further than you can spit him.”  Evan smiled.  “He’s not that bad,” he said.

“He’s much worse.”  I couldn’t tell if he was taking my counsel seriously or not but I could tell it was bothering him so I changed course.  “Seriously, I’m blown away by this hidden, philanthropic side of you.  Why haven’t you followed that dream?”

Evan didn’t say anything for a long time, took in a long breath and said, “Why is your education hiding in a cardboard box in the back of a small coffee shop?”  He dropped my hand.  “Breakfast will be served on the lanai out those doors,” He pointed at the drape covered glass to my left and walked over to a wall on which he pushed lightly on one side.  The wall separated and pivoted open revealing a walk in closet.  I looked around for something to say.  The rumpled sheets, our mess of clothing.  My eyes came to rest on the wig.  He was right, of course.  I was just as guilty of hiding as he was.  The pot-calling-the-kettle thing.  I picked the wig up and ran my fingers through the tangled hair.  Maybe Miranda wouldn’t have brought it up.




After a couple of days of going back to work and not seeing or hearing from Evan, the day had come.  I had crammed every bit of knowledge I could into my brain.  Evan was going to pick me up at seven which meant, at my arrested development stage of preparing for big dates, I had to start getting read at five.  The day crept by.  I cleaned up the living room so that we could use it as such and I could sleep there again.  Finally, it was time to dig into my box of crayons and see if I do my makeup by myself.

It took half an hour to look reasonable.  Jo arrived home and, before I could ask her opinion she said, “Oh, dear.”  Those weren’t the words of encouragement I was hoping for.  I had done this twice before and thought I should have it down by now but clearly I was wrong.

“Let’s wipe this off and…” she said as she reached for a cotton pad and some cleansing cream.  I stopped her and looked in the mirror again.   She was right.  It wasn’t horrible it just looked uneven…very uneven as if a committee had worked on it and couldn’t come to a consensus.  Another half-hour passed and I was presentable.  Jo smiled at me.  “You are really lovely.  I can’t wait to see you in this dress.

She pulled the dress out of her closet and out of its protective bag.  It was a gorgeous brocaded fabric with a death-defying décolletage and a bias cut silk panels that clung to my ass just daring me to gain an ounce.  The dress needed at least one other person to help.  It was an ungainly monster off the body that someone had to balance while I squeezed and pulled.  And then there were laces that had to be laced or I would be topless rather than provocative.

I’d been nude in front of Evan so much lately, you would think I would have a rather carefree attitude toward the whole thing.  Jo and I had seen each other nude on occasion but it was always one of us forgetting the other was home instead of me standing there like a stripper waiting for the dollars to come flying my way.  But, here we were.  I stripped off my clothes and stood hunched over turned slightly away.  I had no idea how Jo was going to help me in that position but I didn’t seem to be able to move.

“I’ve seen you naked before,” Jo said.  I smiled pitifully and turned a little more toward her.  She gave an exasperated harrumph and spun me around so that she could carefully bring the dress to its starting position.  The concentration it took on both our parts quickly shooed away the embarrassment.  After the last tie was tied, she stood back and took in a breath.  “Oh. My. God!”

“Did it split open?” I asked, always ready to believe the worst.  She just shook her head, took my hand and dragged me into her room.  She flipped on the bare bulb light and stood me in front of the full length mirror on the back of her door.  Even though I was barefoot, the dress was stunning.  I turned and moved first, to see if I could and second, to watch the metal in the brocade catch the light as the dress emphasized all the right parts of me.  We giggled excitedly then Jo stood back again with a finger to her chin.  “I don’t know,” she said, “it might look better on a blonde.”  I almost hit her but we laughed and pulled the wig box out.  It took another half-hour to get the wig on right.  As much as I hated to admit it, the blonde hair made the dress pop even more.

I could feel Miranda take charge.  Although she wanted to put on the heels and I refused.  Not before I had too.

The difficulty was not sitting but the approach to sitting.  Like a pilot, I had to line everything up just so, check my instruments and ever so gently lower myself into position.  It was a bird-like perch.  Jo had made me an herbal tea to try and take the edge off my nerves.  I had fifteen minutes to kill before Evan would show.  Make up retouched, wig perfect, hand bag filled with the makeup essentials, nails flawless, and shoes ready to grab when it was time.  I was going to take Evan’s breath away.  Outside I was immaculate.  Inside, the old train wreck I’ve always been was losing the battle.  Miranda was stepping up to the plate.  Pitchers beware.

The phone rang.  I wanted to leap up but the dress was not a leap up kind of dress.  I rose like a lady and walked calmly over to my phone and tried to take the teenage girl screech of excitement out of my voice.


“Evan?” I knew the voice but couldn’t quite give it a face.  “This is Larry.  I’m on my way to pick you up.”

“Larry?!  Oh, no…this is Friday.”

“You forgot our date?”

“I…this…thing came up.  Evan wants me to attend the gala that his company is throwing in his honor.”

“You?!”  He said it as if it weren’t even within the realm of possibilities.  I wanted to tell him about the other night but felt bad about blowing him off.  “Haven’t you been paying attention?” he asked.

A chill ran down my spine.  Had something happened to Evan.  Before I could throw out a hundred fear-filled guesses, Larry continued.  “His old girlfriend from Vienna flew in a couple of nights ago.  There’s some lovely pictures of the two of them.  Even if he decides she’s not worth it, you should see this blonde he was with earlier this week.”

Unceremoniously, I sank down onto the bar stool at the counter.  I wanted to tell him that I was the blonde but I knew, like Superman, I couldn’t reveal my secret identity.  But the girlfriend from Vienna!  That was the reason Evan hadn’t returned my calls.  My insecurity blossomed up and Miranda couldn’t be heard over the voices of doom in my head.

“So, I’m just about to your block.  Since you’re not busy…”

I hung up.  I wanted to kill him even though I remembered something about not killing the messenger.  It was the note of joy in his voice that ground on my nerves.  The night.  My night was over before it began.  Part of me told me to wait.  That Evan, after that wonderful night at the nightclub and on the boat, would never stand me up.  The other part of me laughed scornfully and brought up an image of a gorgeous blonde in the same bed.  I was a fool to believe anything a Luther said.

I was about to tear off the wig and pull the dress apart into its separate parts.  The European horn sounded.  I walked to the window and looked down.  Evan, a picture of financial dominance, stood outside his car and winked at me.  I had won the lottery.  The thing was until a few minutes ago, I hadn’t realized there was a lottery.




I ran down to the car, heels in hand, so that I could reach it before the mirage disappeared.  He held my door for me and kissed me lightly on the cheek as I moved beside him.  “Don’t want to mess up the makeup,” he said.  Was that the reason?  Or was it because his girlfriend was back and I was his date to this event only because I had some training that he never did?  Or maybe he only allowed himself to have sex with a woman a few times before he found someone new?

I felt like bringing up the girlfriend.  How’s Miss Lufthansa?  There were two things wrong with that:  It exposed my ignorance of things European, and it sounded petty even to me.  We did our usual race of rebellion against the traffic laws of the city.  I looked at the man next to me and sunk into a mire of jealousy.  How could I be jealous of something I could never have?  I found a way.  Miranda tried in vain to bring me back to the present but stalked off angrily when I replayed memories of him with the saleswomen.  By the time we reached the hotel, Maggie was in control and that was not a good thing.

At the hotel, Evan came around to my side while I forced my feet into the stilettos he had picked out for the dress.  He helped me out of the car and we walked up the steps blinded by the flashes of the paparazzi.  Somewhere I had mislaid my sense of balance.  I wobbled up the stairs like a drunk.  If not for his strong arm, I would have tumbled down the stairs and lay there, dress split open and wig lying beside me.  That would have been a front page story!  The air was filled with his name being yelled out by the photographers, hoping to get a better picture, and the endless flashes of light.  I tried to smile.  I tried to look like I belonged but I believe I managed neither.

We made our way to the banquet hall stopping occasionally for congratulations for Evan.  I noticed that no one questioned my presence.  In fact, a couple of the tuxedoed men leered at me to the point of being confronted by the women on their arms.  I understood why.  I was more out of the dress than in it.  We entered the hall.  There was an exhalation of joy as the man of honor made his appearance.  Instead of being ridiculed and chased out of the place by an angry torch-bearing mob, I was accepted as his latest piece of arm candy.

Slowly, we made our way to the center of the room where Harold Luther held camp.  I could see Jackson Kent hanging on to Harold’s shadow.  Evan leaned close.  I held my breath, hoping that he would offer some reassurance.

“Three couples up.  What’s his name and company?”  It took me a moment to regroup.  I recognized the face.

“John Billings…” I searched for his company.  He was a main player in Luther Brothers but the subsidiary he ran was beyond my ability to remember.  “He’s important,” was the best I could do.  If Evan was displeased, he didn’t show it.

“Evan,” John Billings said.

“John, how wonderful to see you.”  Billings was pleased that Evan knew his name.  “I wasn’t sure you’d remember me,” Billings said.

“How could I forget part of the bedrock of this company.”  Billings beamed.  Evan beamed.  I still searched for the name of his company.

In the corner of my eye I saw another familiar face coming toward us.  This one was the CEO of the main banking ally of Luther.  I gave Evan’s arm a little squeeze. “Eight o’clock.  The chief exec of Morgan.”  Evan waited for me to say more.  I had his name for an instant and then it was gone.

“Evan, congratulations.  I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you take the reins.”

Just as Evan was about to speak, I whispered, “Phil… Phil Jackson.”  As soon as I said it, I knew it was wrong.  The man’s name came to me.  Bill Simon!  I squeezed his arm again but Evan said, “Thank you so much, Phil.”  Bill looked a little shocked but smiled and clasped Evan on the arm.   With any luck, Bill thought he misheard Evan.

I looked around the room.  The smiling faces, their names, their companies, and how they fit into the Luther Brothers puzzle became a whirlpool that threatened to suck me down into its black heart.  Physically, the distance to his father was small but we were stopped time and again.  I remembered enough correctly that it wasn’t a complete disaster but there were so many I couldn’t remember or put the wrong name with a face or a wrong company with a name.  Evan’s charm got him through the crowd.  He stopped counting on me about half-way through and greeted them all as longtime friends and co-workers. Had I been perfect, there was such a press of people that my whispering into his ear would have been a dead giveaway that he was being coached.

We finally made the core of the party.  Evan separated himself slightly from me leaving me and my heels on their own.  Harold greeted Evan like a head of state.  Jackson smiled as if this were the happiest day of his life.  As I stepped forward, both Harold and Jackson looked astonished to see me.  Harold took my hand and gave Evan a look that seemed to ask, what is she doing here?  “My dear, how nice to see you again,” Harold said as he took my hand.  “Miranda, isn’t it?”

“My pleasure, Mister Luther.  I’m delighted to be part of this…”  I was going to say more but Harold had turned to whisper something to Jackson who smirked at me.  Harold took his son by the shoulder and pulled him close.  I watched Jackson’s demeanor change from light-hearted party goer to someone ready to pull a gun.  We stood in a line.  Evan leaned close and whispered, “What happened?”

I smiled for the onlookers and said, “I’m sorry.”  There was nothing else to say.  This was like an oral exam and I was failing.

While we were within the gravitational sphere of Harold Luther, I had a chance to breathe.  This had the feel of a job interview for me.  I felt myself freezing up.  While we were with Harold, people would come up and Harold would say something like, “Jerry!  How good of you to come.  You know my son, Evan?”  I was elated that I knew who most of the people Harold introduced were.

“I’m relying on you,” Evan said as if I weren’t feeling on the spot enough, and we set sail to schmooze on our own.  “All right.  The short man with the glasses.”  This was an easy one.  It was Calvin Bellin, the head of one of the hedge funds that worked with Luther on investments.  I told him this and breathed a little easier when Calvin smiled at Evan’s greeting.  Calvin’s wife, an exotic brunette at least two inches taller than me and six taller than her husband pulled me aside.

“Don’t you just hate these events?”  I nodded uneasily not sure if it was a trick question or not.  Evan looked over at me like he needed a life raft.  I tuned in to what Calvin was saying while at the same time smiling and nodding at his wife who was probably telling me that I looked like a horse in my dress.

“So, what do you think of that strategy, Evan?”  I was on thin ice.  I hadn’t heard enough of the conversation to know exactly what he was referring to but I ventured a guess.

“Mister Bellin, Evan and I were discussing this on the way over.  Remember, Evan?”  Evan nodded gratefully.  “Evan’s got so much going through his mind right now,” I said as if that would explain everything.  “He thinks your proposal had the most merit of all those before the company.”  Evan gave me a warning glance.  Calvin looked confused at first then a little angry.

“I didn’t know I was in competition.  That’s not what your father led me to believe.”

Evan put a hand on Calvin’s arm and stage whispered, “You know women, Cal.  She’s mixing up off hand comments I made on the way over.”  Calvin seemed to calm down.  “I haven’t had a chance to give your proposal the attention it’s due but I promise it will be on the top of my stack when I sit at my new desk next week.”  That should have mollified Calvin but I could see a look of caution rise up.  I looked at his wife and she looked away as if simply being with me would taint her.  We made our goodbyes and Evan pulled me away.

“I thought you were going to give me good information,” he hissed.

“His wife—”

“You’re here to pay attention to what’s being said to me.  Understand?”

I was a little girl cowering in a corner as her furious father approached.  All I could do was nod.

The evening drug on.  I found myself more and more isolated.  I had no idea how I was going to deal with the social aspects of the evening.  It made sense that the consorts of these powerful people would be expected to step aside while business was discussed.  Was there any way I could help Evan and also appear like I wasn’t helping him?

Fifty-fifty might be good for sharing but it was a lousy average at a thing like this and I was struggling to keep it there.  There were occasions where I was right on the mark and others when nothing I said or suggested was right.  The ice got thinner and thinner.  Evan went back to relying on his natural charm and I tried to find a way to not be any more of an anchor holding him back.  I turned and noticed Jackson Kent glaring at me.  I would think he would be cheering me on.  I was single-handedly doing his dirty work for him.

Attention was called to the dais.  Harold Luther stood at the lectern.  He spoke for a few moments generally teasing the crowd who hung on his power not his wit.  He introduced Evan who patted my hand and walked up to the podium.  I had never seen Evan sweat but he was clearly uncomfortable.  We were supposed to work on his speech earlier in the week but that was before we had reached a standoff about each other’s failings and, of course, his girlfriend’s return.  The crowd’s applause was subdued and I noticed sour faces sprinkled through the room.

Evan was born for the spotlight, he understood its vagaries and could deal with it flawlessly.  My missteps and his general distaste for the business of his father had created a miasma of failure that I prayed he could rise above as he waited for the room to quiet.

“My fellow Lutherians,” he started and got a few laughs.  “I’m sure when you think of Luther Brothers you don’t think of me in a page six scandal…” he let that sit and the crowd warmed to him.  “…but instead the foresight and steadfast resolve that my father and his father have made synonymous with the name Luther.”

I breathed easy.  He’s opening was perfect.  I could see the crowd relax.  The next ten minutes however told me that the only part he had worked on was the opening.  He was vague to the point where it could have been about any company in any business and, at times, contradictory.  By the end, he was actually sweating.  He walked away with a smile plastered on his face and marched past me without a look.  I trailed after him but Jackson got in my way.  “Told you so,” he said and smiled.  He looked at my body and said, “Nice dress.”

I stepped around him and a woman stepped in front of me.  “You have to tell me about Evan.  How did you meet?”  I watched Evan recede into the crowd and, rather than give him another reason to hate me, stood my ground and answered questions.  A knot of women gathered around to hear about me, actually about Miranda, and what Evan was like.  I took their meaning but declined to kiss and tell.  Just as I was about to break free, Calvin Bellin cornered me.

“I wanted to know what you meant earlier,” he said.  At least his company was something I had clear in my head.  I spoke business with him while I scanned the crowd for Evan.  I spotted him in the corner, drink in one hand, a blonde hostess in the other.  He whispered something in her ear and she laughed while his hand around her waist traveled up to reach the side of her breast.

“Mister Bellin, I have nothing but the highest regard for you but you’ll have to excuse me.”  I picked up the short train of my dress and marched through the ballroom.  Those thinking about intercepting me were deterred by the scowl on my face.

In my haste to leave, my heels gave out and I staggered into a waiter with a tray full of empty glasses.  I recovered but the waiter and the tray fell down several steps.  The noise in the room behind me ground to a halt.  I turned to see every eye on me.  My dress had shifted only slightly but it was enough to let one nipple breathe freely.  Covering up, I kicked off my heels and ran out of the room, my eyes filled with tears.   I had no idea how where I was going but anywhere was better than this.




Whether it was by prescience or just luck, I had enough money in my purse for a cab.  While cameras clicked and questions were yelled out, I boarded a taxi and went home.  “Jo!” I called out as I burst into our apartment.  I grappled with the wig and heard a rip as I yanked it off and threw across the room.  “Jo,” I said again and stomped through the small place.  I was alone.  I plopped down on a chair causing the seams in my dress to bite into me.  “Goddammit!  And God damn you, Evan Luther,” I screamed.

“This was a bit Cinderella, wasn’t it?”  I spun around to see Evan standing in my open doorway with my shoes looped over his extended fingers.  I raced over and pushed him with all my might.  He barely budged so I grabbed the shoes out of his hand and flung them across the room to keep company with the wig.  He closed the door behind him and came up behind me.

“Leave me alone.”

He spun me around.  I wedged my arms between us as he wrapped his arms around me.  He leaned in for a kiss but I jerked my head away.  “It’s Maggie I want,” he said.  It took the fight out of me for a second.  Before I knew it, I was in a passionate, searching kiss that made me forget everything for a moment.  He stopped and the evening, the week, everything crept back in.  I fought my way out of his arms.

“You fucker!  You dress me up like a doll, put me on display, expect me to be perfect and when I’m not, you run off to another woman’s arms.  You don’t want me.  You want a robot who does your bidding at the flick of a switch.  Get out of here and forget where I live.”  I turned to push him out but it was like pushing a mountain.

“I’m an ass, that has been proven time and again.  I play an ass professionally in the media.  But you’re wrong if you think I don’t want you.  I want Maggie who flings coffee with abandon.  I want Miranda who can fit in anywhere she wants to.”

I laughed derisively.  “After tonight?  You have got to be kidding!”

“Forget tonight.  Everyone there knew my reputation.  They didn’t expect me to be a master of finance overnight.  If anything, the worst part of the evening was the speech.  It sounded lame to me, I can only imagine what it sounded like to everyone else.”

Here I was again, melting.  I had just enough inner strength for one more assault.  “Evan, I hope you live up to your end of the bargain but I can’t board this merry-go-round of yours again.  If you want me as a consultant, fine, I guess.  But I can’t be your lover one moment and watch you making love to someone else the next.  I can’t.”

“I’m not here because I want you as a consultant.  I value your opinion.  I think you could really help me in the future.  But I’m here because I want you.  You, Margaret Doullen.”

It sapped me.  I was gone again.  Without telling me he loved me or even liked me, he made me feel like I was the center of his world.  I poured into his arms.

We kissed and the world revolved around it.  He explored my body with his hands tugging at the dress.  I stopped him.  “There are laces that need­—”

“There are lots of dresses,” he said and ripped it from my body.  My exposed breasts were a magnet for his mouth.   Pieces of the dress fell from me.  He couldn’t be satisfied.

He picked me up and pressed me against the wall.  It was a repetition of our first time.  Somehow, holding me up, he got out of his pants.  We lunged at each other, pushing, pressing, stumbling and crashing around the room.  A table and floor lamp became casualties in our wake.   We joined them on the floor and rolled over and over, each of us trying to take dominance.  I capitulated and he took me.   We were animals rutting.  We were flesh entwined hoping that it would never end.  He climaxed but didn’t go soft so we worked his shaft against me until each orgasm had been torn from me.

Sweating, the floor our bed, I nuzzled up to him.  I looked him over; he was still in his tuxedo from the waist up. So I undid his tie and loosened his collar.  He shimmied out of his jacket and lay the cool silk over me as a blanket.  We kissed in the post-coital love of the moment and fell into that blissful limbo that only sex can provide.

I looked at him and he was smiling at the ceiling.  “What?” I asked.

“There’s another company event next week,” he said.  Instead of giving in to the fear of failure, I laughed.  “What if I give you flash cards with people’s pictures, names, and how they relate to the company printed on them?”  He laughed with me.  Another kiss then another, soon my mouth was all over him.   I sucked hungrily on him and he responded.  Mounting him, I looked down at this man, this beast, this stranger, this lover and rode him mercilessly until we were both spent.  I rolled off, pulled the coat back over me.  I’m sure I’m staining it, I thought as we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

His phone awoke us.  It was still dark out.  I had no idea what time it was but the lights I had turned on while looking for Jo were off meaning that she had returned home and seen us like this.  He squinted at the caller ID, sighed, and answered.

There were a lot of ‘okays’, and  ‘I understands’, before he finally said, “I’ll be there,” and clicked off.

“Girl friend?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “I deserve that,” he said with a sigh.  “That was Jackson.  There’s an emergency meeting of the board tomorrow afternoon.  I’ve got to present my plans for the future of the company. You aren’t invited.”

“Tomorrow afternoon?!”  Who holds board meetings on Saturdays?  I grabbed his phone and checked the time.  It was after two.  “I hope you got enough sleep because we have a world of work to do by then,” I said.  I pushed off his coat and stood.  He watched every move of my body while I searched for and donned my black, go-to clothes.  He stretched and pulled on his pants while I dragged out all the files he had given me.

Not invited, I thought.  There was no reason I would be invited but still I pictured Jackson Kent smirking at me.