Authors: Vivian Winslow
Wildflowers, book 3
The Gilded Flower Series
Text copyright © 2016 Vivian Winslow
Cover artwork by Berto Designs
Table of Contents
Society, being codified by man, decrees that woman is inferior; she can do away with this inferiority only by destroying the male’s superiority
—Simone de Beauvoir
“We’re closing soon. Is there anything else I can get you?” Camila glances subtly at her watch. Last call was twenty minutes ago, but she’s not permitted to kick anyone out. Her boss won’t allow it, nor is she willing to sacrifice a big tip. Her friend and fellow bartender, Jared, already cut out to meet a gorgeous guy he’d met a few hours earlier. It’s not a problem. She can close alone. Being an only child, she prefers the solitude and quiet of the late hours. Few people ever wander to a bar at 3 am looking for company. They’re usually looking to avoid it.
If only this guy would finish his drink and go home already
The man at the end of the bar waves a hand over his half-finished Old Fashioned. “No, I’m good.”
Without a word, Camila slips him the ticket face down and leans back against the bar to wait. She checks her watch again and sighs.
“Sorry, didn’t realize you had somewhere to be,” he says gruffly, pulling a Loewe wallet out of his jacket pocket.
“I don’t,” she replies, hoping that sigh didn’t cost her the tip she was hoping for. Summer months are slow, with most of Manhattan out in the Hamptons or Montauk. While she loves having the City to herself, the tips are thin at best.
From the moment he walked in, she could tell he had money. It wasn’t the ivory linen jacket or blue tailored pants either. It was his gait and the air of confidence that trailed in behind him, the kind that makes him appear he belongs there, even if he doesn’t. Which, by his prep-school looks and shiny gold Rolex, he really doesn’t. Not at 4 a.m. in a bar on the Lower East Side. Sure it’s become known as one of the best cocktail bars in the City, but that’s just because it doesn’t try to be anything but a bar that serves good drinks. It’s why her boss, Todd, named it L. He couldn’t be bothered to come up with a real name, but somehow a one-letter name gave it a sort of mystique. And much like anything else that’s hip in New York, the less hard it tries, the more popular it becomes.
This guy definitely doesn’t belong. From his Ferragamo loafers to his too perfect haircut, he’s the type of person who tries too hard, wears all the “right” clothes and has the “best” pedigree, but deep down is probably miserable as fuck because he sacrificed his soul to pay for it all. But she has to admit, these soulless men are the ones who tip the best. They have a lot of overcompensating to do.
He drops a few fifties and starts to get off his stool, catching himself before he stumbles.
. That will definitely more than make up for her meager tips earlier in the week.
He doesn’t move. Camila stares back at him, knowing full well what he’s expecting. There was a time the feminist in her would want to vomit over it, but now she can only pity him.
She could give him some other hint to leave, maybe offer to get him a cab or order a car, but that would require talking to him, which she’d prefer not to do. If he could spend a portion of the night texting, he can push a few buttons on an app to call his own car.
“The train to Greenwich doesn’t leave until 5:30,” he grumbles.
“Then maybe you should call your wife to have her come pick you up,” Camila deadpans.
He chuckles. “She’s at the Beach with the kids. She doesn’t know I’m in the City.”
Of course she doesn’t
Camila doesn’t bother to point out that just because she served the man a few drinks doesn’t mean she has to serve him anything else. “There’s a diner next door. You can go there to kill time,” she suggests, pressing a button behind her.
“I will if you come with me,” he replies, smiling at her.
The glowing, white smile sends chills down her spine. She’s worked in enough bars over the years that she’s used to the leers and the side comments about her looks or hooking up. But creeps like him are a different breed. They’re not used to taking “no” for an answer since the world taught them from a young age that they could have anything they wanted, even for a price.
“I’m good,” she smiles back, spotting a figure entering the bar from the private door to her right.
“That must be my boss shutting us down,” Camila says casually.
The unwanted stranger looks to his left as Todd approaches.
“Hey man,” Todd says, reaching out a hand.
Caught off guard, the man takes it for a quick handshake. “Hey.”
“Hope you enjoyed your drinks tonight.” Todd releases his grip and looks to Camila. “All set.”
She nods, relieved Todd was around to break the stalemate. While it’s his policy not to shut down while a customer still has a drink in front of him, he doesn’t tolerate his bartenders getting harassed either.
He turns back to the man. “We open tomorrow at 4. Fresh oysters and half-priced cocktails til 7.” Todd begins to push him toward the door. “Maybe we’ll see you then.”
Before the man can respond, Todd is already closing the door behind him and locking it. He does a circuit of the bar, straightening a couple of tables and turning over a few chairs. L is his biggest space yet, with a few banquettes and tall tables by a large dark window facing out toward Mott Street. Todd’s first bar was a small place on Eldridge, south of Delancey that he opened six years ago when his mother managed to unfreeze his trust. The money, combined with his lucrative years as a male escort, meant he could finally make his dream of owning a neighborhood bar come true. Unfortunately, in the City, the more private or a secret a place, the more people want in, so he found himself opening more bars in order to keep up with the demand for a well-curated space for the well-heeled and cocktail connoisseurs willing to spend twenty dollars for a well-mixed drink.
“The guy wasn’t that bad,” Todd says as he returns to bar.
Camila turns away from the register and shakes her head. “No, but I didn’t have it in me tonight to deal with such a douche. He didn’t even try to sell me some sad story about his girlfriend dumping him or his wife leaving him like that jerk the other day. All he had to do was smile and let his cash do the talking.” She holds up a few fifties before shoving them into the back pocket of her jeans.
Todd chuckles as he moves behind the register. “Connecticut, right?”
Camila reaches into a different pocket and pulls out a five. Laying it into his hand she says, “I don’t know how you do it.”
Todd’s smile widens. “You forget I’m from there. I grew up speaking the language of the entitled.”
Camila folds her arms in front of her. “I still don’t know how that’s possible. You’re one of the coolest people I’ve met.”
Todd looks at her sincerely. It’s this look, the half-pensive, half-caring one that makes her think for a second she could date him. Until she remembers that he’s her boss and totally not her type. She can’t pinpoint it. Something about his body and the way he carries himself around her makes her think he would make an incredible lover, but perhaps it’s the way he’s married to his business that gives her the sense he can’t or doesn’t want to offer anything more. “Maybe because I know what it’s like to live without money.”
“And how did that work out for you?” Camila glances around the bar. Admittedly, she’s impressed by how well he established himself in the New York bar scene within a few short years.
“Hunger is a good thing. It taught me to appreciate the simple things.” He winks at her. “Speaking of hunger, how desperate are you for more hours? Stacey needs a few nights off next week.”
Camila shrugs. “Considering I have over 120 grand and counting in law school debt, I’d say I’m pretty desperate. So thanks.”
“Excellent. Spares me from having to ask Jared.”
“Why? He’s the best mixologist you have.”
“That’s why I hired him. I just wish he’d do a better job of finishing his shifts
he gets laid.”
“But where’s the fun in that?” Camila smiles slyly. God knows she could use a good lay. She hasn’t been with anyone since Eliseo left.
. She promised herself she wouldn’t think of him after he left New York. She never thought he’d ghost her the way he did. She can feel her anger rise to her face and her cheeks flush.
“You remember that I’m back to two nights a week when classes start in a couple of weeks.”
“Sadly I haven’t forgotten.”
“Jared said he’d pick up a few shifts for me.”
“I’m considering a couple of new hires so don’t worry.”
“Mind if I go?” She asks Todd, who’s in the middle of emptying the register.
He nods without looking up. “You’re opening tomorrow, right?”
Camila rushes toward a closet in the corner to grab a worn denim jacket and a tote bag. “Yup. See you then.”
“I’ll have the corned beef hash with a side of bacon.” Camila pauses and searches the menu. “And sausage as well . . . and the celery tonic.”
“Very good.” The waitress closes her pad with a snap and gathers the two menus. “Thank you, ladies.”
Camila folds her hands onto the table and looks at her cousin, Shoshana, who’s staring at her wide-eyed. “What?” She shrugs.
“What do you mean what? You never order more than the granola and yogurt. Either you’re pregnant or depressed.” Shoshana stirs her Bloody Mary and takes a sip. “Mm, spicy.”
“Then you’re in complete denial, because you don’t eat like a truck driver.”
“I’m totally fine, I’m just tired. I’ve been working extra shifts this week.”
“Tell me that’s just temporary, C.C. You saw the article I sent you about needing at least eight hours of sleep a night, right? I swear you’re going to age ten years in like one if you don’t take care of yourself better.”
“Thanks, mom, I’ll keep that in mind,” Camila says facetiously. Of course she appreciates her cousin’s concern. Shoshana’s always been more mothering than her own mother who had taken a more hands-off approach to parenting, believing children were better off figuring it out for themselves. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel close to her mother. On the contrary, Camila’s parents had always been devoted to her, but their parental philosophy was to treat her as their equal, to raise her to see and experience life as they saw it. While Camila has always appreciated the fact that her parents didn’t shield her from the real world, she can’t help but feel grateful that her cousin obsesses over her well-being as much as she does. It’s the only reason she tolerates being called C.C. by her and no one else.
“Or maybe you can find a restaurant gig. Better hours, you know,” Shoshana suggests helpfully. “My mom’s got a friend with a restaurant at 91
and Madison. It’s not hip but . . . .”
“Restaurant tips suck. Besides, I like what I’m doing. Keeps me busy.”
“Distracted more like it.”
“You really can’t help yourself can you?”
Shoshana looks at her with her large, dark almond eyes that she inherited from her Persian mother. “What? Being blunt? You love that I’m direct and honest.” She stops and takes another drink of her Bloody Mary “Besides, you lawyers and all that circle talking you do doesn’t work in real life.”
Her cousin pauses when the waitress approaches with their food. As soon as the waitress walks away, she continues. “It’s Eliseo, isn’t it? You’re not over him are you? I warned you. He had flaky written all over him. He was not long-term relationship material.” She shakes her head and spears a strawberry in her fruit salad.
“I’m not looking for long-term. Besides, what do you know about long-term? You’re twenty-two and haven’t dated anyone for more than three months since high school.”
“At my age, that is long-term. Besides, I’m not the one eating my way through a break-up that wasn’t really a break-up because you technically weren’t dating and he totally left you and moved to Miami.”
“Impressive that you could sum it all up in one breath,” Camila mutters as she chews on her bacon.
“You cannot allow yourself to gain ten pounds over some guy. He was a chef for godssakes. I mean, his career choice says it all. Stability isn’t his thing. I know you said he was amazing in bed, but still. You’re the editor-in-chief of Law Review at one of the top law schools in the country. Save the emotional eating over someone who’s worthy.” Shoshana picks up her cousin’s phone off the table.
“You don’t even know the code.”
The young woman raises a perfectly threaded eyebrow at her. “It’s always your birth year. You’ve got to start getting more original than that.” She swipes over the screen and stops when she finds what she’s looking for.
“Why do you still have a picture of him?” Shoshana reveals a half-naked, half-sleeping Eliseo lying on his bed. The same bed she’d spent many nights on after her bartending shifts.
Camila stops chewing and swallows. Her eyes linger over the taut muscles, the tattoo sleeves and that gorgeous smile. Being with him was so easy for Camila. He understood her, or rather, he let her be. In the three months they were together, even in the loosest sense, he never expected anything from her. On top of that, being with him somehow connected her to a part of her mother’s Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican culture. She liked that he understood what it was like to grow up feeling different from others, to be an outsider.
“I guess I never got around to deleting it,” Camila mumbles.
“You’re such a liar.” Shoshana looks down at the photo for a minute. “Damn he was hot,” she says before hitting the trash icon. She continues to swipe through the photos until she’s satisfied there aren’t any more of him on her cousin’s phone.
Camila watches, feeling deflated. She doesn’t stop Shoshana though because she knows she’s right. She’s always right about matters of the heart, which Camila finds much more difficult to navigate than other parts of her life. This is why she has brunch every other Sunday with her younger cousin. The girl’s years belie her wisdom.
Even though Shoshana had grown up more privileged than Camila, she has a way of seeing the world in the most brutally honest way possible. She’d always pushed beyond the veil of the Upper East Side world her parents attempted to keep her in. No amount of money or privilege could keep her insulated. When she wanted to defer her acceptance to Bard in order to spend a year at a kibbutz-style commune in Costa Rica, they couldn’t stop her. While her appearance screams Upper East Side Jewish Princess, with her expensive labels and family’s Fifth Avenue apartment, the reality is that she’s one of the most insightful, well-informed and intelligent young women Camila’s ever met. That says a lot given the schools she’s attended in New York.
Despite orbiting different social and economic stratospheres in Brooklyn and Manhattan, their fathers were certain to keep the family’s bonds tight, so much so that Camila regards Shoshana more like a sister than a cousin. Even if genetically they look continents apart. The one thing the young women never talk about is why Camila’s father gave up his share of the family’s fortune and settled instead for what he calls his “piece of heaven” on Jefferson Avenue. Whenever Camila would ask him why they didn’t live near her cousin, he would reply cryptically, “Nothing will kill you faster than being rich.”
“You know what hurts the most,” Camila says as she slices the sausage.
“Hmm?” Shoshana reaches over and grabs a slice of bacon off the plate.
“Since when did you stop being kosher?”
“Technically I haven’t stopped. I just enjoy the occasional pork product. It’s like saying I’m drug free, but I occasionally toke. Doesn’t mean I’m a drug addict,” her cousin defends.
Camila shakes her head. “That is truly the worst argument ever. Does your mother know?”
“Oh please, you know she’s the worst. You can’t keep her away from the shrimp cocktail at parties.” Her cousin sucks down the last of her drink. “Anyway, you were saying about what hurts.”
“Just that he didn’t tell me he was moving until a few days before. The fact that he waited so long to tell me.” Camila shakes her head. “It was disrespectful. Like I didn’t deserve his trust, even though I trusted him.”
“It doesn’t make him a bad guy. I don’t think he was deliberately trying to hurt you. I just don’t think he knew how to tell you. Some people are just stupidly passive/aggressive.”
“How can you say he wasn’t a ‘bad guy’? You called him a flake only two minutes ago.”
“Yeah, but doesn’t mean he’s not a good person. He wasn’t feeling the relationship. Clearly he had issues. You know some guys like hanging out with someone who isn’t demanding so they don’t have to confront their mommy or daddy issues or whatever. You made it easy for him.”
“Yeah, but between work, school and Law Review, I don’t have the time or energy for a relationship.”
“So you end up with flakes like that hot Cuban.”
“You’re infuriating you know. You’re telling me I can’t win.”
“Not necessarily.” Shoshana points her fork at Camila. “You just have to be more selective. Be clear about who you are, what you want and your goals. Then boom,” she snaps her fingers.
“Then boom, what?” Camila snaps her fingers back at her.
“You’ll manifest whatever or whomever you want.”
“You’ve been reading more of those self-help books your mother gives you, haven’t you?”
“They’re more psycho-spiritual than anything else. It’s not like you couldn’t benefit from reading a few, C.C. You’re so in your head all the time.” Shoshana smiles at her. “I just think you’re one of those people who’s sometimes too smart for her own good, you know. Like you over-think things so they end up seeming too hard, which allows you to justify pulling back, like with relationships. You’re so commitment phobic that you end up attracting other commitment phobes like him.” She points to the blacked-out screen.
“Ugh, please don’t keep reminding me of Eliseo. I think I went a whole two days without a single thought about him.” Camila pushes the food around her plate, having hardly touched the eggs. She’s beginning to lose her appetite thinking about
“At some point thinking about him will hurt less. It’s all ego bullshit anyway. You weren’t emotionally invested in him.”
“How could you tell?”
Shoshana shrugs, dangling her sandaled foot. “You didn’t get excited about him. I remember when you dated that guy when you were at Columbia. What was his name?”
“Omg, how can you not think of him? He looked like Tyrese. Damn he was so good looking.”
“Oh you mean Julian?”
“Yes,” her cousin squeals. “The things I imagined doing with him. Not that I would’ve, of course.”
“But he had serious problems being monogamous.”
“It was good in the beginning, though.”
“We dated the sum total of six weeks, Shosh. I mean, come on. I’m not that person any more.”
“Then what do you want? Clearly you weren’t getting it from that chef, so what? Do you just want another Netflix and chill thing or something more?”
Camila doesn’t respond right away. She loves and hates how her cousin gets under her skin and challenges her to think about her emotional life. Her parents wouldn’t do that for her, nor would most of her friends who are too busy building their careers or starting them to worry about the state of her relationships let alone their own. Commitment seems like such a foreign concept, like home-owning or having children.
Isn’t there something in between
“You had the in between, Camila. Monogamy but without the love,” her cousin says, replying to her unspoken thought. That’s the other thing about Shoshana, she has an uncanny gift for reading people’s minds. “Maybe try love and see if the rest falls into place.”
“Love complicates everything. I have too much riding on this year to let it take over my life.”
“Love doesn’t go where it’s not welcome,” Shoshana says with such authority that it pierces something inside Camila. “You can set the boundaries. It’s an emotion that you can guide, not the other way around.”
“You should really have your own talk show.”
“As a matter-of-fact, I’m launching my own podcast in a few weeks. I’m calling it
Love and the Modern Woman
. I should totally feature you as my ambitious, feminist cousin searching for love. Oooh.” Shoshana pulls her phone out of her Bottega Veneta calf-skin bag and begins typing. “This is a perfect topic. Can women of our generation really have love and career?” Pretending her knife is a microphone she holds it in front of Camila, “What do you think?”
Camila pauses, knowing her cousin wants something thoughtful. All she can offer is, “I want to believe it’s possible.”
Shoshana sets down the knife and adjusts her silk halter-top. “What a hopeless answer. You are depressed.” She picks up Camila’s phone again.
“What the hell are you doing now?”
Her cousin shakes her head and starts swiping so rapidly, her fingers become a blur.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting you out of this rut. You may not find love on Tinder, but you can at least get laid. I think someone needs to fuck the sadness out of you.”
“Is that advice going into your podcast?”
Shoshana looks up at her cousin and smiles. “The very first one.”