Well, I did it again… Emilio Pasquale (at Photos by Emilio) gave me this photo to write for December, but I’m a tad bit later than I hoped I’d be. If you aren’t familiar with this collaboration, Emilio sends me a photo for inspiration and I write a story… my story follows immediately after the photo. Oh, and if you aren’t familiar with Emilio’s work, you really should click the link above to check it out 🙂
“You can’t do it?” Nikki laughed. “Oh, it’s too late to back out now, Laura. A deal is a deal.”
I cleared my throat. “Look, I had too much to drink and I over-committed myself.”
Nikki’s eyes narrowed as she handed me an envelope. “The cruise leaves at five o’clock on Friday. You’ll have about 24 hours to accomplish what you promised.”
“I just told you, I can’t do it.”
“You’ll get the $500 when you bring me proof that you took care of business.”
“Do you want me to bring his heart back in a box or what?”
Ignoring my sarcasm, Nikki smirked. “No proof, no cash.”
“So when do I find out who he is?”
“You’ll know when you see him.”
I grunted. “So that’s it? Nothing else to go on?”
“And why a cruise? You know how I feel about boats. And water.”
“Good thing it’s a ship then.”
I stared at the cruise ticket and itinerary in my hand. “Fine. I’ll do it.” I stood and stomped from the restaurant, fuming that Nikki’s laughter taunted me all the way to the front door.
*** *** ***
I’d learned a valuable lesson on New Year’s Eve that business and friendship didn’t mix, and deals should never be made over cocktails, behind the cloak of new years and fresh starts. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how the corporate world had gotten so messed up. My new policy is that alcohol should be consumed alone (if ever), and if others are present, complete silence is preferred. I’d only had a few days to prepare, but somehow, I crossed the gangway fifteen minutes before departure; make-up and hair professionally done, wearing a knee-length party dress with enough sequins to make a dance mom envious.
I scanned the room and immediately realized I was over-dressed- as in wearing too much fabric. I’d long suspected it, but this just proved that imagination had become endangered through evolution. I remained determined to not let it go extinct. I lifted my chin in protest, proud that I was not one reach away from a wardrobe malfunction.
The conflicting scents in the room made me dizzy. Musk, floral, citrus- they all smelled like desperation to me. But the dusting of glitter on too-exposed bodies made it pretty, I guess. I winced. Nikki might’ve been right: I’m too sarcastic to socialize. I reminded myself that this wasn’t a social event, per se. I had a task to accomplish. I shook my head to clear the perfumed thoughts and searched for anyone who appeared like they were looking for someone else. Isn’t that everyone here? I wondered in frustration.
“Hey, sweetie. Looking for someone?”
My nose involuntarily wrinkled as I turned toward the male voice right next to me. I forced my gaze away from the silky sheen of his gelled hair; the lights literally glared off it. I shook my head and stepped away. “No. Actually, I’m not.” I almost laughed at the stunned effect of my honesty, so I walked away before he mistook the reaction as a come-on. I happened upon a staircase leading to the upper deck. As I climbed, I smiled; thankful I had sense enough to wear ballet flats rather than pinchy, strappy high heels. They have rhinestones, I reminded myself, as if to justify my shunning of fashion.
I leaned against the railing that had been strung with white lights. The golden lights from nearby vessels seemed magical against the backdrop of the darkening sky. They almost made me believe in fairy dust, unicorns and love, but when I closed my eyes, I could still discern between fantasy and reality. My shoulders slumped when the thought occurred to me that gazing at lights did nothing to complete what needed to be done. I turned toward the stairwell and tried to make myself move, but my feet remained firmly planted.
Then I saw him and gasped. It couldn’t be. But his profile looked just like Chas Spencer, my ex-fiancé. From a distance, one might view him as cunning, even clever. But I knew better. I knew there was no substance behind his too-white smile- or beneath the knock-off designer clothing and Calvin Klein boxer briefs- I could see the waistband peeking between the top of his slacks and the bottom of his untucked shirt when he leaned over to tie his shoelace. I knew he tried to project the air of casual wealth, but the message I got was: I’m broke and make bad decisions. I spent all my money on underwear so I couldn’t afford a belt.
Certain he was the real deal and not a doppelganger; I became furious at Nikki and grew more determined than ever to succeed at what I came here to do. More than the $500, I needed to prove Nikki wrong. I could do this.
I would rather have been at home wearing fleece pajamas and eating Häagen-Dazs while watching movies on Netflix, but I pasted on my best smile in hopes of hiding my true feelings.
“Chas, is that you?”
His eyes widened. “Laura!” His gaze darted from one side to the other, and then back to me.
“Are you here with someone?”
“Well, uh, sort of. Oh, man, this is awkward….”
My smile became more genuine. I truly enjoyed watching him squirm. “Oh, I’d love to meet her. Where is she?” I raised my eyebrows. “It is ‘she’, right?”
“It’s a blind date. I haven’t found her yet.”
“I think maybe you have. Nikki sent me here.”
The color drained from his fake-tanned face.
I shrugged. “Sorry dear, but it looks like it’s you and me tonight.” I wasn’t really sorry.
“I-I was supposed to start the New Year with a fresh start.”
“Isn’t that kind of hard to do when you’re the same old you?”
He glared at me.
“Look, we’re stuck here, so we might as well make the best of it.”
“What’s your game?”
I tilted my head to the side. “Game?”
“Yeah, when you found out I cheated, you told me to drop dead… and some other things.”
“You never did listen very well. Hey, how about we get a drink?”
After several seconds of skeptical scrutiny, he headed to the stairway. I followed and exhaled a relieved sigh. Once upstairs, I told him I’d get the drinks. He started to protest, but I pretended not to notice and walked away.
I handed him his usual: vodka gimlet.
“What did you get?”
“Rum and Coke,” I raised my voice so he could hear over the band that just started playing. Minus the rum.
Fifteen minutes later, I plucked the empty glass from his hand. “I’ll get you another.” He didn’t argue. His attention was focused on the band’s lead singer; a busty blonde sporting strategically placed swatches of black leather. This is almost too easy.
After the fifth drink, I noticed it was almost midnight. I asked, “Do you mind if I take our picture? You know, for old time’s sake?”
He looped his arm around my waist and pulled me toward him. I snapped the picture just as his lips landed on my cheek. I extracted myself from his grip and offered to get him another drink.
I lost count of the drinks, but I was down about fifty dollars when I noticed Chas struggling to balance on the backless stool. “I think you’ve had enough. I’ll walk you to your room.”
He smiled; a sloppy grin. “You just want to get me alone.”
“You got me figured out.”
Using me for balance, Chas managed to get to his room, falling only once.
“I need your room key.”
He leaned against the wall by the door. “It’s in my pocket.”
I sighed. “Which one.”
He winked. “I don’t remember.”
Five hundred dollars, I reminded myself. I guessed right and found the key in his left front pocket.
Chas fell onto the bed and pulled me on top of him. I scrambled away. “I need to use your restroom.”
“I’ll be right here, baby.”
His slurred words made my stomach lurch. I stayed in the locked bathroom until I heard his rumbling snores. I slipped out of the bathroom and searched the duffel bag by the bed. I found what I needed and stuffed it into my purse. I ran from the room, relieved when the door latched behind me.
I did it.
*** *** ***
“I don’t believe it,” Nikki said, mouth agape.
“I think you owe me $500.”
“I-I didn’t think you’d do it.” Nikki handed me the envelope.
I lifted the flap and counted the bills, then shoved the envelope in my purse.
“You don’t trust me?”
I smiled. “I used to. Before you and Chas.”
Nikki stared at the table. “I regret that. I wanted to make things right again; to get you back together.”
“Not in this lifetime.”
She lifted her gaze, puzzled.
“Nothing happened. After he passed out, I took a pair of underwear from his duffel bag.”
“You cheated! The bet was that you had to spend the night with someone I set you up with.”
“No, you cheated. I just played your game and won.” I smiled. “And I did spend the night with him- a very long evening of observing who he really is. You know, I hated you for what you did, Nikki, but you actually saved me. I don’t know if I can trust you again, but I do forgive you.”
This time, I strode out of the restaurant in peace; leaving Nikki in stunned silence.
The obvious inspiration for the story was Emilio’s photo. But I’ve had other stuff on my mind that may have affected the story that developed. Mainly, I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness, and how hard it can be to reach that point where you can truly release a hurt and heal. I also think when we’ve hurt someone, sometimes our attempts at “fixing” things are misguided (like Nikki), and might be more for the benefit of easing our own guilt, rather than for the person we’ve hurt. Now, I’m thinking I just might think too much… so I’ll stop now 🙂
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful week!