Authors: Eden Bradley
I am aching again. Insatiable. Luckily it's early enough that I can see another client today. It's Saturday; someone is bound to call.
I am praying that someone calls.
I guess Colin didn't give me what I needed after all. Maybe that's just a lie I tell myself sometimes, when questions, doubts, are hovering in the back of my mind. Like the ones I'm trying desperately to ignore right now.
MY PHONE STARTS RINGING
the minute I get home. I kick the front door shut behind me, set the take-out sushi I picked up on my way home on the hall table and pick up without checking the caller ID.
Lhe voice is deep, with a rough edge that makes me think of good bourbon. “Valentine, it's Joshua.”
But I'm going warm and loose all over at the sound of his voice, my pulse fluttering. I can't help myself. “Hi. How are you?” I'm buying time. I'm a little in shock. I didn't want to talk to him.
No, that's a lie. I'm dying to talk to him.
“I'm fine, great. How are you doing? I hope you don't mind that I got your number from my caller ID after you called the other night.”
God, can I make small talk with this man? I feel utterly unprepared for this. When was the last time I did this sort of dating dance?
“No, of course not; that's fine. And I'm fine, thanks. I was just about to eat.”
“And I was about to ask you to dinner.”
“Valentine, did I do something the other night?”
“What? No, of course not.”
“Because I like you. But something happened that night, and you haven't returned my calls. I'm not admonishing you. Christ, I don't mean to sound like an asshole.”
“You don't.” I wave my hand in front of my face, as though he can see me.
I feel absolutely backed into a corner. I can't even come up with an excuse. I don't really want to.
A long pause. Then he says, “I'd like to see you again.” Another pause in which I don't say anything. He goes on. “I don't even know why I'm doing this. Pushing the issue. I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent guy. I can usually take a hint. But I need to see you, Valentine. Don't make me fight for it.”
A line from that Dylan Thomas poem goes through my mind:
“Do not go gentle into that good night”
But the poem was talking about not fighting against death. I really am screwed up. This is only a date, for God's sake!
Pure torture, hearing his voice. My body is on fire.
Yes, see him. Just once. Be with him.
“I want to see you, too, Joshua.” It slips out before I can do anything about it. But I can almost feel his radiant smile on the other end of the phone. My heart is absolutely pounding in my chest.
“Good. You won't be sorry.” He says it in a low tone that reverberates through my system like a caress. “Do you like Thai?”
“I like everything.”
“There's a great place in Malibu I'd love to take you to. Tomorrow night, seven o'clock?”
“Yes, sure. I can meet you if you tell me where it is.”
“Or I can pick you up. I'd like to. You can relax on the drive out there, we can talk.”
I freeze a little at that idea. Too close, to have him here in my house. But irresistible.
I am going to do this.
“Yes, that sounds fine. Come and pick me up, then.” I give him the address.
“I can't wait to see you, Valentine.”
God, that voice, like warm whiskey going down my throat. My sex is heating up, pulsing with need. And my head is half empty, I'm trying so hard not to think about what I'm doing.
My cell phone starts ringing, and I pull it out of my purse, check the ID.
“Joshua, I have another call and I have to take it. I'm sorry.”
“No problem. I'll see you tomorrow evening.”
I hang up, staring a moment at my phone. It's Deirdre, my boss. The Broker. “Madam” seems much too tame a term for this elegant, steely woman. Deirdre looks a lot like Catherine Deneuve—a tall, pale blonde with classic features—and has that same aura of regal Ice Queen. She's the one who finds my clients for me, and while regulars can book directly by calling my cell, new clients or anyone who wants an out-of-town trick has to go through The Broker.
This is exactly what I need. I know it. But she's the last person I want to talk to right now.
I flip open the phone.
“Val. I'm glad I caught you.” Her voice is cool, her elocution flawless.
“So am I. What do you have for me?”
“I hope you're free tomorrow—and for the next few days. And if you're not, make it happen.”
A sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, but relief, too. “Who is it?”
“Zayed. He wants to send you, Regan, and Rosalyn to New York.”
“Ah, I love New York.” My palms are sweating. I curl my fingers into a tight little knot.
“You know how he is, Val. He'll want to keep you three cloistered in the hotel room. No shopping, no museums.”
“Yes, I know. We'll be the perfect harem, waiting for his every command.”
“Yes, you will.”
Deirdre never did have a sense of humor.
“When do we leave?”
“Be at LAX tomorrow at nine a.m. He's sending his jet for you. You know what to do, I trust?”
“Of course. Any idea how long he'll want us?”
“It's Zayed. It could be a night. It could be two weeks.”
I make a mental note to ask my housekeeper to water my orchids. I'm already thinking of what to pack.
“I'll be prepared. Thank you, Deirdre.”
“Just keep him happy, Val.”
She hangs up, and I see there's a message on my cell. It's
Bennett, probably making up for the night he had to cancel on the opera. Which leads me back to Joshua.
This is exactly why I can't do this. This dating thing. Why I cannot have a personal life. I've been perfectly fine with the way things are for over nine years. Why is everything so complicated suddenly?
I pace the floor, back and forth in front of the window, the scenery outside a blur of green beyond my pots of orchids.
I know why. It's because I actually
Joshua, aside from the intense attraction. If it was just sex, I could handle it. And I'm not allowed to feel like this. This is the end for a girl in my position.
But why not? I have plenty of money.
It's not about the money.
No, it's not. It's about condemning myself to a life of disappointing sex. And frankly, I like it far too much to do that to myself. It's the sex. Not that I have any craving for a normal life. For a real relationship. I don't even know what that is.
I have to call him.
I pace for another ten minutes before picking up my phone and dialing his number. I don't know what the hell I'm going to tell him.
The conversation is as brief as I can make it. I tell him I have to go away on business and I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, all of which is true. He sounds disappointed, polite. I feel like there's a weight on my chest, pressing down, making it hard to breathe. It's not any better when I hang up the phone.
I try to tell myself this is for the best as I head into the bedroom to pack for the trip: slinky little dresses, my sexiest
silk and lace lingerie, my highest heels. A few vibrators, individual packets of lube, condoms. The equipment of a call girl. A nice little reminder.
I'll be away for a while, be distracted. I'll have some time and distance to get things back in perspective. On some level I think the universe has intervened to keep me from doing what can only be destructive for both of us, ultimately. It wouldn't be fair of me to start something I have no intention of finishing.
But sometimes I just think the universe is fucked.
ZAYED BIN SALEH AL-RAHMAN'S
private jet is about as luxurious as you'd expect from a member of the Middle Eastern nobility. Plush seats, far better than anything you'd find in first class on a commercial flight, a cabin staff of three, two bedrooms in the back. Decorated in damask-striped wallpaper, velvet and silk upholstery, marble-topped tables. And they have everything on this plane: the best champagne and liquor—not that I ever drink when flying. The food is gourmet, the service impeccable. I'd never fly any other way if I could help it.
We've all brought a good supply of fashion and gossip magazines and are dressed in our yoga pants and slippers. We've done this routine before, Regan, Rosalyn, and I. Flown in Zayed's jet, worked together.
Regan and Rosalyn are my best friends. They're not the kind of friends I had in elementary school and high school. No, I left those girls far behind me. Those kinds of innocent
friendships. And of course, I never had sex with any of those girls. But that's part of this business.
I'm not really into girls, although Regan does have a wicked tongue. But I couldn't get into it without the requisite payment. That makes everything work for me. And these girls are hot, I have to admit that. Both gorgeous blondes, Rosalyn with big blue eyes, Regan with almond-shaped green eyes, and both of them with the full breasts I lack. They pose as sisters, but I've always doubted the truth of that. Still, they look enough alike to get away with it, and frankly, the clients love the idea too much to question it.
Like me, they both seem to actually enjoy the work, which makes them popular. We three are the cream of the crop, even in Deirdre's outfit, which is saying a lot. That's why Zayed asks for us. Perfection for our Arab sheik, always.
They're both curled up on the curved couch in their matching pink outfits. Regan is idly paging through a British fashion magazine; she has this idea that the European editions are classier than the American ones. As though reading classy magazines is going to have any impact on what we are. But I never bother her about it. Let her have her illusions.
Rosalyn is painting her nails a pale, shimmery pink that sets off her lightly tanned skin. Her hair is piled on top of her head in a sexy tumble, her head bent, showing a sensual curve of neck. Oh, yes, I can appreciate their beauty. Any woman can feel the beauty of another female, whether they want to admit it or not.
I'm bored. We've only been in the air an hour and I'm restless already, unable to relax. I usually plug in my iPod and drift on the music, but it's not working this time. Pulling off my headset, I sift through the pile of magazines, but nothing
interests me until I find an article about a woman in Detroit working with teen girls recovering from drug addiction. I don't know why this particular article touches me, but it does. These girls are so sad, so alone. I know how that feels. And maybe some of it has to do with Joshua talking about the boys he works with on the hockey team. When I get to the part about some of the girls walking the streets for drug money, I go cold all over.
“Someone should help them,” I mutter.
Regan looks up from her bright fashion ads. “What?”
I tell them about the article. “Someone should help them. I mean, there's the woman in this article, but how many girls are out there, all over the country? How many of them will end up on the streets?”
“Too many,” Rosalyn says, nodding.
“I can't stand it, the idea of it. That there's no one who cares about them. That they're so completely neglected. How many of them will end up pregnant? Dead? It's too awful.”
“Why are you getting so worked up, Val?” Regan asks. She's looking at me like I've lost my mind. Maybe I have.
“I don't know. I guess … I can see myself in them. And I wish … I wish I could help.”
“No one would let people like us near their kids.”
“Yes, you're probably right. But still…”
“Honey, don't worry yourself about it.” This is Rosalyn, trying to soothe me. But she always sees the world through the most incredibly rose-tinted glasses. Her personal form of denial that makes this kind of life possible.
I look back down at the magazine, at the pictures of these young girls, their eyes dark, hollow, even as they smile for the camera. I can imagine what they must have been through.
No one would let people like us near their kids.
Yes, Regan's right, I know. And what would I do for them, anyway?
Maybe what Joshua does. Just be there. Listen. Help them to see something of the beauty of the world. I sometimes think that's what saved me from going in an even worse direction. Loving art. Learning about it. Appreciating the beauty.
A quick flash of the pleasure on Joshua's face as he spoke about the boys he works with. One of the things I admire about him.
I flip the magazine closed and stand up, sigh, walk the length of the plane, lean over a seat and stare out a window, watching the earth glide by beneath a thin layer of clouds.
I cannot stop thinking about him.
I straighten up, push the closest call button, and ask the girls, “Anyone else want a cocktail?”
Rosalyn glances up from her nails. “A cocktail? We never drink in the air, Val. It makes us puffy. What's up with you?”