Prudence: Chapter 3g

A waitress brings LeBeau a drink. He beckons to her with one finger. She leans over the table so he can whisper in her ear. Flavia wonders what he’s saying. Is he trying some pick-up line? Would a waitress satisfy LeBeau? They’re hit on by everybody through the course of a night, and despite how stunning they are, they’re common – or at least Flavia thinks so.

The waitress nods to LeBeau, and strides directly for Flavia. Flavia fears she has not only been caught, but this is a violation of privacy. Perhaps security will be summoned to escort her away, or even to throw her out. These are all irrational concerns, but Flavia has heard stories about LeBeau.

Just as she’s about to retreat, the waitress reaches her.

‘He wants to see you!’ the waitress shouts above the music.

‘Me?’

The waitress nods. ‘You know what you’re doing?’

‘No.’

‘Then he’ll like you.’ The waitress smiles. ‘I’d walk away. But the choice is yours.’

Her advice infuriates Flavia. Who is she to preach? She is just a waitress. Flavia knows she’s being unkind, but her aspirations not only buoy her, but inflate her sense of purpose until everybody else is tiny beneath her.

She pushes past the waitress and approaches the booth.

LeBeau gestures that she should sit beside him.

Flavia’s heart thumps. She slides into the booth, but keeps her distance.

So … do you…?

Flavia misses half of LeBeau’s question. The music’s too loud. He gestures. Flavia remains where she is. LeBeau beckons once more. Flavia leans in, rather than moves closer.

LeBeau cups one hand around her ear. ‘I’m not going to spend the whole night talking like this,’ he says. ‘Move or go.’

Flavia curses herself for moving too quickly. She does not disapprove of how she might appear eager to LeBeau, but how willingly she gives herself. Dante pops up in her mind. But he would understand – although she knows he wouldn’t. Dante is insecure. Sometimes, Flavia worries that his smallness will restrict her, as if the limited way he sees the world will limit her, too.

LeBeau lifts one arm behind her, along the backrest of the booth. It’s not an advance. Flavia tells herself that over and over. He’s making himself more comfortable to address her.

‘So what do you want?’ he asks, taking a sip of his drink. It’s in a short glass, with a clear fluid and contains a slice of lime.

‘My name’s Flavia Rojas.’

‘What?’

‘Flavia Rojas—’

‘What do I care what your name is?’

‘I …’ Flavia doesn’t know where to go with this.

‘You’ve been watching me. Is this the best you got? Are you attracted to me or do you recognise me?’

‘I want to audition for you.’ Flavia blurts it out before she can lose the courage.

LeBeau snorts.

‘As a host,’ Flavia hurries on. ‘For one of your shows.’

‘We’re always on the lookout for good presenters.’

Flavia smiles.

‘What do you do?’

‘What?’

‘What’s your background?’

‘I’m a journalist.’

‘Locally?’

Flavia nods, trying to think of a way to divert the conversation.

‘For like a newspaper?’

‘A website.’

‘Do you present? Or write?’

Flavia takes a second to answer. LeBeau throws his head back and laughs.

‘You’re a print journalist,’ he says. ‘Let me guess: you cover minor local news. Weddings. Births. Deaths.’

Flavia feels her face is on fire. ‘I want something in front of the camera.’

‘Who wouldn’t?’

Flavia nods vigorously, as if her enthusiasm is all the reference LeBeau needs.

‘Have you got experience?’

‘I used to work in PR and hosted—’

‘That wasn’t what I meant.’

‘No?’

LeBeau’s hand lands on her thigh. It’s huge and feels like it could almost close all the way around her leg. One finger slips under her dress. Flavia clamps her legs shut. LeBeau leans in closer. Flavia squirms. She can smell his hunger. It’s not naïve or hopeful or even desperate, like other men who hit on her. This is something darker – something cavalier. Whether he has her or not is ultimately irrelevant to him. She is simply to be another among the number of his conquests.

‘This isn’t something for nothing,’ he says.

Flavia starts to push back, but LeBeau’s fingers claw into her leg.

‘Forget the audition,’ he says, ‘I could give you the job.’

Flavia freezes.

‘You’re pretty. I like your voice.’

Flavia can’t help smiling.

‘But I’m sure you can guess the cost.’

Flavia’s smile fades. ‘The world doesn’t work like this anymore,’ she says.

‘The world will always work like this. A few martyrs only sweeten the rewards.’

His hand relaxes. Flavia could slip away.

‘Go,’ he tells her. ‘Run. Tell everybody what I said. Where do you think it’ll get you?’

Flavia hates the powerlessness she feels. But she is a nobody. This is Edan LeBeau. He must face a torrent of these accusations. And yet he is still Edan LeBeau. She will be dismissed as an opportunist.

‘I’ve got a boyfriend,’ she says.

‘Is he auditioning too?’

Flavia pushes free and starts to slide from the booth. LeBeau catches her wrist. She spins to face him.

‘The thing with breaks is you don’t know if you’ll ever another,’ he says.

He releases her wrist.

Flavia stays there a moment longer than she knows she should. But then she slides from the booth and plunges into the crowd.

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