Flavia angrily storms past Quinn.
Quinn is torn with indecision. He should make sure Flavia is okay, but now a scuffle has broken out and his friends are involved. Marcus fights with that abandon and grace he does all things; while Dante is a scrapper – he is hit but bounces back and is immediately tussling with anybody he can grab hold of. Crew-cut is a beast now, enraged and righteous, some of his own friends trying to restrain him before he unwittingly kills somebody.
The melee swells in front of Quinn, and pushes him towards the archway. He decides to hell with it and ducks out, catching a glimpse of Flavia just before she disappears into the crowd. He pursues, although he doesn’t know what he’ll say to mollify her. In the little time he has known Flavia, he has identified her as headstrong and tempestuous.
He passes through several gaming rooms, and stops, confused. The gaming rooms have multiple archways. Who knows which Flavia has chosen? Now he has various options and has to explore each tentatively, then backtrack. He overthinks it and becomes lost – or, at the very least, loses Flavia.
Her course was simple: straight. She ploughed through whatever was straight ahead, until she was shooting through gaming rooms, growing so enraged with each step that she is oblivious when she passes through the very room Amber is in.
Amber lines up the thirteen ball – the last of her balls. The crowd of women behind her collectively hold their breaths. One could imagine if they were to release it simultaneously, the ceiling would blow off.
‘Come on, Amber!’ her new friend, Gabriella, calls. ‘You can do it!’
Amber knows the game is a fix, that the Icons are instructed to lose, but that does nothing to lessen the tension or the excitement. It’s not about beating her opponent, but being the one to do it and becoming the envy of the crowd. She does not know why she wants this, but can only imagine it’s the need for approval that she has rarely gotten from anywhere in life. It feels wrong to think this way, but she’s had several cocktails, and the alcohol has loosened her mind.
Her opponent, Savage, paces around to the table until he poses behind the pocket Amber’s aiming at. He wears nothing but a sheer black, leather g-string tied with a bow at the left hip. The bulge in his crotch shapes his penis – as long as her hand from wrist to the tip of her middle finger. His skin is a healthy bronze – the complexion of somebody who is often outdoors, rather than lying in a solarium. Each muscle has been carved into his body, the product of hours of weights, aerobics, and yoga everyday designed to produce this physique. The topknot ponytail makes him look exotic. He’s not. But it makes him look it.
‘You can do it, Amber,’ he says.
Amber strikes. Her shot is sure – she played lots with her brothers when she was a kid, and has the odd game with Quinn, sometimes even letting him win so that his ego isn’t deflated. But there’s more at stake here than Quinn’s ego. She can’t believe she just thought that, and almost barks nervously with laughter.
The cue ball races across the table, pounds the thirteen into the corner pocket, then rebounds off the bank and rolls to the middle of the table, right opposite the black. The women in the room scream.
‘That’s it, Amber!’ Gabriella says.
Savage walks around to the middle pocket. His buttocks are taut and well-rounded. Unbidden and spontaneous, Amber visualises having her hands clawed into them as he thrusts into her. Of course, that’s wrong. She is with Quinn. But it doesn’t hurt to think, and that’s all it is – a fantasy. It scares her, though, how thin the line between fantasizing and actualisation is.
‘This is it, ladies,’ Savage says as Amber lines up the black. ‘Sink the black and it all goes!’
‘Go for it, Amber!’ Gabriella says.
Amber bends over the table and lines up the black. It’s an easy shot – easier than the previous shot. But there’s a tremor in her hand. She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and exhales slowly. Somebody will beat Savage; that’s inevitable. That’s his function.
But she understands she needs this now, this flirtation with something tawdry and risky. She thinks about the story of Holly’s impromptu threesome and tries to squelch it, but now gains the tiniest sliver of appreciation for how such a thing might just happen.
Amber opens her eyes and strikes – too hard, it seems. The black hits the middle pocket, bounces off the cup, then rolls around the rim. Gasps run through the room. Every person in here now lives vicariously through Amber. She feels them pulsing in her chest. The black sinks into the pocket. The women roar.
Amber throws her arms up.
Savage is immediately in front of her. He takes her cue and lays it on the table along with his own, then models himself, pacing back and forth so that everybody can appreciate him from every angle. He stops in front of Amber, then holds up his hands like he’s surrendering for arrest.
The other women shout encouragement and advice, telling Amber to do it quick, to do it slow, to tear it off with her teeth, and all sorts of things Amber is now finding far too easy to imagine.
Her hand trembles as she reaches out. It’s embarrassing. She seizes the drawstring from the bow and pulls. The women roar. The bow unties and the drawstrings fall to his leg, but the g-string itself remains unmoved, supported by his cock and the band going around the other hip.
Savage folds his hands behind his head and shakes his hips, like that will dislodge the g-string, but to no avail. It’s not happenstance. He has done this so often he knows how to prolong and build the excitement. The women hoot. Amber turns back to them, as if for advice. What she hears is predictable, but the endorsement makes her feel good anyway.
She kneels before Savage, grabs the band, and pulls his g-string clear from his crotch and slides the remaining loop down his other leg. His cock unfurls in front of her face, the way one would thrust a hand forward to engage a handshake. It’s large and circumcised, surrounded in a neat thatch of pubic hair. Like the rest of Savage, it’s bronzed.
Amber kisses its head lightly. Then there’s nothing but screams from the other women. Amber’s sure there must be a fire or an assault. But it’s a cheer, building, building, building, until the screams melt into one continuous shriek filling the room.
Savage grabs her by the hand and hoists her to her feet. Amber springs from the floor and into the air. Savage catches her, his large hands clutching her buttocks. And, as serendipity works here – or perhaps it’s not serendipity, but a conniving of everything that is primal – this is when Quinn appears in the archway.
His mouth drops open as he watches Amber hook her legs around Savage’s hips. Then Gabriella, jumping and waving her arms in the air, obstructs Quinn’s view. He tries to see around her, but becomes wary of what he will see. No. He has seen enough. He retreats, leaving Amber to whoop to the ceiling as she feels the length of Savage’s cock parked against the crotch of her panties.
He spins her around and around and kisses her. Amber’s tongue tries to part his lips, but he keeps them closed. Then, as they spin, his hands loosen around her buttocks. Amber unwraps her legs and her feet touch the floor. His cock draws a line from her crotch up to her belly. Savage stops spinning. He hugs her, although it’s the sort of hug friends share – despite how Amber feels, despite how the other women feel, this is his job, and he has divorced himself from the physicality of it.
‘Well, ladies, that’s me for the night!’ he says. ‘Congratulations to all the winners and I hope the losers had a good show!’ He scoops up his g-string and starts for the archway, but stops just as he reaches it. ‘Oh, Amber?’
Amber’s eyes widen.
‘The prize!’ Savage tosses his g-string to her.
Amber catches it. Savage disappears through the archway. Gabriella rushes over to Amber, grabs her by the shoulders, and shakes her excitedly.
‘What I wouldn’t have given to have been in your position when you pulled that g-string down!’ she says.
Amber blushes. She feels hot. And moist.
‘I can’t believe you did what you did!’ Gabriella goes on.
‘Neither can I.’
‘Come on!’ Gabriella says. ‘Let’s get a drink!’
* * *
Patricia doesn’t fully understand what’s taken hold of her, but the rage that courses through her body is hot and exhilarating. Usually, Icons leave the gaming rooms in the accompaniment of security. Now, Patricia’s alone and despite her state of her undress, she is ablaze with pride and indignation and – most of all – potential. She feels that, right now, she could do anything.
Men ogle her but none accost her, bowed by some unseen force that seems majestic and undeniable but, in truth, simply amounts to confidence. Women stare at her with envy. She scowls at the lot of them, ready to blast the first one to get in her face. She almost wants some guy to make a smart remark. But there’s nothing.
She arrives in Noah’s room. Of course she does. This is where she was always heading.
There’s a crowd of women, most of them thirty-something and overly done up, gaggling inanely, imagining they’re having a good time because it’s how simply they conceptualize fun. Patricia loathes them. They’re entitled to let go, to get away from their everyday troubles and responsibilities, but this is pathetic now, and if they’re pathetic, Patricia loathes herself for being the object of a similar group’s fervour.
They’re startled by her arrival and they chatter to one another behind their hands, commenting because they need to comment, but also afraid that Patricia might hear them. Patricia feels there’s something drastically wrong here. It takes her a moment to pinpoint it: it’s the room’s mood. Usually, an Icon would have the room in a frenzy. But this is sedate. Like a Tupperware party.
Noah’s in the corner. He’s topless from the waist up and he cowers from his audience, embarrassed to be seen in such a state. It speaks to his state of mind: he is not indecent, and still wears more than he would wear at an outing to the beach, for example, but it’s not the bare skin that troubles him, but the vulnerability.
Patricia grabs him by the arm and swivels him around to her.
‘What …?’ he begins.
‘Get out of here!’ Patricia tells him. ‘You don’t want this. Go!’
‘I got into this because I needed money, but I’ve been stuck here ever since. Five years. You forget what it is you do. They strip away your dignity until they own you. Walk out!’
Noah’s eyes go wide. Patricia thinks surely she couldn’t have alarmed him that much. But he’s not looking at her but over her shoulder.
Patricia knows what she’ll find before she turns: Teo, flanked by security.
‘Patricia, Noah,’ he says, ‘come with me.’
‘Constance would like to see you both,’ Teo says.
Patricia considers resuming her rampage, but this is security now. They’ll seize her and drag her to see Constance, or throw her onto the street just as she is. There’s a story that one Icon was thrown naked onto the curb and had to find his way home just like that. Patricia doesn’t know if that’s true. Prudence is filled with stories.
‘Now,’ Teo says.
Patricia and Noah nod and start from the corner.
‘I apologise, ladies,’ Teo says, ‘but we’ll have another Icon in here promptly.’