Every dream is inherent with opportunity, a choice to turn left or to turn right. More than that, every choice is inherent with its own requirements. Some are accepted unthinkingly. Others are considered. And others leave the chooser in a quandary.
That’s the thing with dreams: you never know where they’re going to take you.
Or what they’ll demand.
At a table on the second-floor patio overlooking the dance floor sit three twenty-something women sipping cocktails. Each is one half of a couple; they met one month ago at a restaurant in Barcelona, and have been inseparable since, hiking across Europe, until the path led them here.
Holly is an Australian, an archetypal blonde, although there is a girlishness about her – an impishness. As a teenager, she had nodules on her throat that had to be surgically removed, and left her voice husky; the elocution lessons mitigated much of her accent. Her legs are crossed, extending from her leather miniskirt, and her cleavage shimmers in her skimpy blue blouse.
As she sips from her Tequila Sunrise, she looks at the figures below grinding against one another on the dance floor.
‘Can I tell you something?’ she asks her two friends, although she is not asking for permission – at least not from anybody but herself.
She has wrestled with whether she would disclose this story – especially to such new friends. But they are already close, and enjoy a strong bond that they know will sustain their friendship even when they each go home.
Holly sets her Tequila Sunrise down on their small table. ‘I was in a bar yesterday afternoon waiting for Marcus,’ she says. ‘I was wearing my red dress.’
‘The little one?’
This is from Amber, the demurest of the trio. There is a shyness about her that almost suggests innocence, and the Louisiana twang of her accent also communicates an almost provincial courtesy. Outside of the trip to Europe, the most daring thing she has done – and she had to be convinced – was to highlight her hair. She is uncomfortable in her frilly green dress, and would much rather be in jeans. Her Vodka & Orange is untouched.
Holly nods. ‘Marcus was late, so I ordered myself another drink.’
The third member of the trio, Flavio, arches a single brow. She is an Argentinian who is the embodiment of smouldering sensuality, if it could be packed in a vacuous nature. She is all the cliches – dark haired, a deep complexion, with a sultry beauty, her grey eyes captivating, but she moves through the world obliviously, unaware of the effect she has on others. She wears a small black dress, and a little wrist-purse – in which she keeps her phone – strapped to her left wrist
‘Marcus is never late,’ she says, ‘is he?’
Her smile suggests something sly – that is how her mind works, never accepting anything as it’s presented on the surface.
‘He was this time,’ Holly says. ‘The bartender brought me my drink – a Long Island Iced Tea. I’d just taken a sip from it when a handsome, well-dressed man came up to where I was sitting at the bar and laid one thousand Euro down by my glass.’
Flavia’s eyes widen. Amber covers her mouth
‘He thought you were a hooker?’ Flavia asks.
Holly nods. ‘He and his friend wanted me for their lunch hour.’
‘Friend?’ Amber says.
‘Sitting in the corner was another business executive, this one more handsome than the one who was propositioning me.’
Holly takes another sip, not for fortitude, but needing something to do while she waits for the inevitable questions. Although she’s known these two only a month, she already thinks she can predict how each will react, so it surprises her that both – especially Flavia – are quiet.
‘So what did you do?’ Flavia asks.
‘The first man laid down another one thousand Euro while his friend came over and put his hand on my hip.’
‘I hope you set them straight,’ Amber says.
Holly finishes her drink.
‘Holly?’ Amber says.
Holly tosses her head back to cast her hair from her eyes.
‘Holly?’ Amber says.
‘You quivered?’ Flavia asks.
Holly nods. ‘The first man laid down another one thousand Euro. The other man ran a hand up my back, leaned in close to me, and whispered in my ear how much he wanted to fuck me.’
‘This seriously didn’t happen,’ Amber says, but more so like she’s trying to convince herself. ‘Did it?’
‘Their scent was in my nostrils. Their lust. Their hunger. Their desperation. I could smell how much they wanted me.’
‘Because they thought you were a hooker, Holly!’
‘I envisioned how they wanted to possess and dominate me, how only I could satisfy their cravings. They felt they had ownership over me but, in that moment, I knew they were slaves to me.’
‘They were paying!’
‘Yet I held all the power.’
‘I don’t think they were slaves to you.’
‘What happened?’ Flavia asks.
Her tone is even, but her breath short. The prospect tantalises her. Flavia wants to be risqué, but her love life has been remarkably mundane. She has confided that her partner, Dante, has proposed watching her make love to another man, although that might just be Dante testing her commitment to monogamy – and him. At any rate, Holly thinks that Flavia never would take up Dante’s suggestion. Flavia is all talk. So is Dante.
‘I picked up the money, folded it, put it in my purse, and followed them to a nearby hotel.’
Holly waits for an indignant exclamation. Or even acceptance. But their faces are inscrutable, as if this has overwhelmed their capacity to express themselves adequately..
‘The air conditioning was out,’ she says. ‘The room was a furnace. And it was cheap – the walls shook, the closet rattled, and we could hear the people in the next room. I’m sure they heard us. That just made it even more amazing.’
‘It sounds nasty rather than amazing,’ Flavia says.
‘Where do you go in sex when there are no boundaries?’ Holly says. ‘I don’t mean physically. Or just physically. But emotionally. Spiritually. When nothing exists, but wanting to fuck.’
‘Are you mad?’ Amber says. You don’t know what might’ve happened! And I’m not talking about what they wanted to happen. They might’ve been psychos or … I don’t know.’
‘I knew they wanted only one thing,’ Holly says.
‘I still can’t believe you did this,’ Flavia says, but Holly can hear the envy in her tone, that she’s taken such a risk.
‘I never behaved as I did with them,’ Holly says. ‘Not with Marcus, not with anybody. It was like losing myself. Maybe the money made it wanton. Or dangerous. But to be devoured, where it’s inescapable. Anywhere you turn, it’s passion. Arousal. Lust.’
She picks up her glass, which is empty.
‘How did this tryst end?’ Amber says.
‘They got dressed and left. I showered, got dressed, and met Marcus for lunch. I apologised for being late. He was fine with it, though. He’d gotten caught up talking to Quinn about something.’
Quinn is Amber’s fiancé. He can be every bit as naïve as Amber, if not more so.
‘Later,’ Holly says, ‘I saw a wedding dress. I went in, bought it with the money I’d made, and arranged for it to be shipped home.’
Amber is shaking her head, as if she’s taken Holly’s behaviour as a personal affront. She and Quinn have been the least adventurous of their group, often retiring early, and not wanting to try new things. When the two marry, they will probably spend most of their nights at home in front of the television until they get to middle-age, and realise they’ve never done anything with their lives.
‘How could you, Holly?’ Amber says.
‘I’ve never done anything like that before and I doubt I’ll ever do it again. I don’t know what you’d call it: an impulse, a moment of weakness, or possibly even temporary insanity. Maybe it was casting inhibition to the wind before settling down to a life of monogamy with Marcus. Sometimes, just between us, he’s not the most adventurous or satisfying fuck.’
‘Thanks for that, too,’ Flavia says. ‘Now I can never look at him the same again, either.’
Holly laughs. ‘The longer our relationship has gone, the less attentive he’s become to, well, lasting. He can be like a hit and run. Which makes me glad I did this.’
‘Marcus being lousy in bed makes you glad you did this?’
‘Marcus isn’t lousy all the time. He’s just not always considerate of my needs. But this makes me realise that’s something we can work on.’
‘This makes you realise it’s something you can work on?’ Amber says. ‘This?’
‘Amber, you’re not handling this well.’
‘What if he finds out?’ Amber asks.
‘How? Neither of you are going to tell him, are you?’
Flavia shakes her head, but Amber averts Holly’s gaze – not that she would ever disclose a confidence, but one day very soon, Amber and Quinn will marry, and Holly knows Amber might just be the sort of wife who shares everything, which is a concern given Quinn’s and Marcus’s friendship. At least Flavia can be trusted with Dante.
‘You won’t say anything, will you, Amber?’
‘Of course she won’t,’ Flavia says. ‘Neither of us will. It’s just so … unbelievable.’
‘But … poor Marcus,’ Amber says.
‘I don’t want you to think this is going to be a regular occurrence,’ Holly says. ‘It was a one-off thing. Maybe it was just a lapse, something I had to get out of my system.’
‘What if you were to see them again?’ Amber asks. ‘I mean, what if you were to bump into them?’
‘I’ll worry about that if it happens, not before. You worry too much, Amber.’
‘And you worry too little. I’m just concerned. For you.’
Holly puts a hand on Amber’s wrist and gives her an assuring squeeze. ‘I’m fine.’
Amber’s eyes go pointedly to the diamond engagement ring on Holly’s finger – 18k gold, a melee of brilliant, small diamonds surrounding a diamond shaped like a teardrop, or perhaps ostensibly it is meant to be a heart.
‘I just don’t want you to lose what you have with Marcus,’ Amber says.
‘We’re fine. I know it wouldn’t seem it given this but, really, we are. Who knows? You and Quinn will get married one day – one day soon. He’s already got a new car, a down-payment on his own house; you’ve picked out all his furniture. Surely a ring can’t be far.’
‘You’re just saying that.’
‘You know it’s true.’
Amber casts her gaze down demurely.
‘Maybe on your hen’s—’
‘Never.’ Amber snatches her hand away from Holly and glowers at her.
‘I was teasing.’
Amber’s eyes brim. She picks up her Vodka & Orange and gulps half of it.
‘I’m sorry, Amber.’
Amber stares down into her drink. Holly and Flavia exchange a glance. Holly shrugs, as if to suggest she didn’t mean to overstep. Flavia rolls her eyes. However pedestrian her sex life is, she is not judgemental, and – like Holly – knows Amber tends to react.
Flavia’s biggest concern now is how uncomfortable it’s become between the three of them, and thinks of ways to move the conversation forward. She looks around with the intention of finding anything to use as fodder, then peers over the balcony.
‘I wonder where the guys are …’ she begins. But then comes the exclamation: ‘Oh my God!’
She shoots to her feet, and leans dangerously over the balustrade. A horde of people are lined up at the South Bar, while others have taken up occupation on the barstool. The bartenders – dressed in black leather pants and vests with shiny buckles – move with crisp efficiency to serve them. It’s impossible to pick who’s gotten Flavia’s attention.
‘What?’ Holly says.
‘That’s Edan LeBeau at the bar.’
‘Edan Le who?’ Amber asks.
‘You don’t know Edan LeBeau?’
Neither Holly nor Amber do.
Flavia tells them that Edan LeBeau is a media powerbroker, and an executive with Hermes-LeBeau Enterprises. He has created and produced a series of news special, exposés, and series for various networks and streamers. For anybody wanting to get into media journalism, he is the man to meet.
Holly and Amber rise to flank Flavia, and follow her line of vision until they see him: in another life, he might’ve been lost in a crowd of men who might be considered good looking but unspectacular. He wears the struggles of a hard life – one that has weathered his face, and which he carries in his posture, as if he’s expecting to fend off an attack. Wealth has attempted to temper that desperation, but only with moderate success. Circumstance has not just cultivated him to be a fighter, but a predator.
‘If I could meet him,’ Flavia says, ‘who knows what it could mean? An introduction, maybe.’
‘Flavia,’ Amber says, ‘you’re a dreamer.’
Flavia scowls. ‘Anything but.’
‘Is this really the time and place?’ Holly asks.
‘You won’t get through his handlers and receptionists,’ Flavia said. Then she smiles. ‘Opportunity, right? We’ never know when it might be there.’ She pushes off from the balustrade. ‘I’ll be right back.’
Flavia slips into the crowd.
Holly sighs. ‘Come on,’ she tells Amber.
‘Let’s make sure she’s okay.’