Dante wonders how much the Bourbon & Cokes are affecting him. He feels as if he’s standing outside of himself, observing his gregarious nature, and frowning with disapproval.
Patricia doesn’t mind, though, sitting next to him. He wish he could read her, but he is terrible at reading people. This is why he lives in constant fear that Flavia will come to the realisation that she has settled, and she would be better of pursuing somebody worthy of her stature. He cannot comprehend how she would love him, or that sometimes two people so different can still find love in one another.
He smiles. He’s sure it’s a cool smile, but his eyes patrol Patricia’s chest. She has breasts he’d love to shove his face into and wriggle. It’s stupid, he knows, and not something he’d ever entertain with Flavia, and the longer he holds onto the thought, the more it shames him. Lacking any intellectual or emotional connection, he has lowered himself to physical attraction, and puerile fantasy.
He tries to push those thoughts out. He is here. She is here. That’s that the plateau they share. The only other thing he knows for certain is she’s a stripper and he briefly was part of her show, until she decided to rewrite the narrative.
‘Come to tease me some more?’ he asks.
‘My actions in the gaming room got me fired.’
Dante lifts his Bourbon & Coke to his mouth. Some of it spills from his glass and onto his thigh. He doesn’t let that interrupt him. ‘You deserve it,’ he says, taking a drink, and hoping he sounds cold but measured.
Her rebuke initially puzzles him – at least until he begins to think about it earnestly. She was meek, playing to a character for the juvenile enjoyment of a room of men. He saw only that – what others expected her to be. But she rebelled. She found something in herself, regardless of the consequences. He suddenly admires her for that. And envies her.
‘Well, I’m sorry,’ he says.
‘Don’t be. We all make our own choices. Mine means I’m just about out of here.’
‘Working here requires I sign a contract. If I void the terms of that contract, I’m liable. Tonight, I voided the terms of that contract. So I’ve been given a one-shot deal.’
‘Yeah? What’s that?’
Patricia’s eyes dart to Providence not too far away, ready to make Dante’s next Bourbon & Coke. Dante looks at her also. Providence’s face is inscrutable. Patricia gets up from the stool and takes Dante’s hand.
‘Hey!’ he says. ‘Where are we going?’
Patricia leads him to a booth in the corner, shrouded in darkness and obstructed by the octagon. She pushes him into the seat. Dante stumbles and must catch himself. Before he can protest, Patricia is sliding into the seat alongside him. Her hand shoots to the inside of his thigh. Dante jumps and his hands instinctively move to grab Patricia’s wrist, but he stops himself.
‘What’re you doing?’ he asks.
Patricia’s unsure herself if she’ll be able to follow through with this. The physical act itself is simple. But grasping it beyond that is difficult. It’s a test – a means of proving oneself. She should leave. That would be the best thing to do. She would wake tomorrow unemployed, but with a clear conscience. But, as so many others find here, something draws her to push this – a means of exacting revenge on all those people who objectified her when she was an Icon.
She unzips his pants.
‘You don’t know?’ Her hand slides into his pants, shoves aside his underwear, and closes around his cock.
‘We’re out in the open!’ Dante says.
‘Not that open.’
Patricia takes his cock out of his pants. He’s hard and already feels close to bursting. Dante tries to keep his mind off what’s happening. Her hand runs up and down the length of his shaft. He doesn’t understand this. These sorts of things never happen to him. And despite his fantasies, he doesn’t know what to do. Fantasies are safe and controlled. This is the unknown and terrifying.
‘Why …?’ he begins, but that’s as far as he gets.
Patricia leans over him. Her dark hair sways across his belly and lap. Her full lips close around the head of his cock. Dante gasps. But nobody’s watching. Their attention is fixed on the pianist. And Patricia’s barely visible behind the booth’s table. His hands rest on her head. She impales her mouth, then slowly draws back up.
Dante hisses, his hands clamping down on the table. He struggles to think of the most unsexual thoughts possible as a means of maintaining control. Patricia lifts her face to his. She kisses him, her tongue stabbing his mouth, while her hand continues to stroke his cock.
‘Well?’ she asks. ‘Should I stop?’
Dante’s world disassembles in an instant – Flavia, the engagement ring in his right pocket, and their future together. Perhaps it’s too late for true nobility – true nobility would’ve had him stop Patricia immediately – but he could still push her away and go find Flavia, still propose as he intended. He sees humour now in how this is always his intended fallback, but he never pursues it. He wants to be his own person, but never finds the strength to do so.
He closes his eyes and sees Flavia, perhaps up on the second floor with Holly and Amber, whining about what she saw in the gaming room. They’ll be condemning him. He could prove them wrong. He could show them what he’s made of.
His eyes open. ‘No,’ he says. ‘Don’t stop.’
* * *
‘That sonuvabitch!’ Flavia says.
She watches Dante tilt his head back and spread his arms across the backrest of the seat, and Patricia’s face disappear into his lap, her head bobbing above and below the tabletop.
When it was shameless flirting over pool that was one thing, but now he’s cheating. Flavia can’t believe she means so little to him. How dare he. How. Dare. He.
‘I’ve got a good mind—’ she begins.
LeBeau spins her and slams her against the glass partition, one large hand clasping her throat, just under her jaw, his other sliding down her hip. Flavia can feel his cock, hard and warm, pressing against her thigh. And now it’s not his hunger she smells, but his disdain.
‘You want to go back out, reclaim what’s yours?’ he says.
His fingers slide back and forth over the slit of her cunt, his middle finger finding her clit. Flavia whimpers. He hikes her left leg up, hooks it over his hip, and guides the head of his cock forward until it pushes her open.
‘Well?’ he asks.
Flavia slides her hands around his neck.
‘Fuck me,’ he says.
‘Say it …?’
‘Fuck … me …’
‘Say it, damnit!’
Flavia’s desperation explodes into rage that snaps into focus. ‘Do it,’ she tells him in a voice that’s hard and flat. ‘Or don’t. You choose.’
LeBeau drives his cock into her slowly.
Flavia emits a guttural cry. He is bigger than Dante, and his actions contain purpose. Dante moves like a kid hopping the neighbour’s fence to retrieve a ball. Get in. Sneak around. Get out before anybody’s the wiser.
LeBeua withdraws, Flavia clenching at him regretfully. She does not want to lose him. Then he thrusts forward so hard that her butt slaps against the glass and she grunts in his ear. So this is the way he wants to play it. He thinks hard means dominance.
The hand he had around her throat lowers over her breasts and cups her buttock. She’s lifted – she cannot believe how easily. She might be paper in his hands. His other hand claws into her other buttock. She wraps her legs around his hips as he begins to fuck her, initially with slow, long, powerful strokes, but quickening until there’s only the collision of their flesh and her own uninterrupted wail filling the octagon.
She rides him with abandon, her fingernails clawing into his back, her gaze fixed on his.
* * *
Dante grinds his teeth. It’s embarrassing, but he’s going to lose it already. Patricia pulls up, kisses his lips, his chest, and then runs her hand up and down his shaft.
She sees Dante as a fool – like pretty much everybody who ever came to watch her act: they revel in her stripping, take pride in beating her in pool (even most would know she’s throwing games), and they fantasise about her, before returning to their unsatisfying partners and unfulfilling lives. They think they have power over her, but she sees now she has the power over them. She can control a room of men, and reduce them to their most primal – and their most stupid.
That’s what Dante is now: a quivering idiot who has probably conjured a narrative in his head that he is winning her, but she is manipulating him. It comes so easily that she almost feels guilty. But this is what Joy wants, and it’s something that Patricia draws strength from.
‘Prudence has secrets,’ she whispers into Dante’s ear.
Dante turns to her. ‘Secrets?’
‘What’re you talking about?’
‘Do you want me?’
‘Of course I do,’ Dante says.
‘What would you be willing to pay?’
Dante recoils. Patricia puts an assuring hand on his.
‘Not money,’ she says. ‘That’s not what this is about.’
‘What would you give to have me?’
‘It doesn’t matter what it costs you?’
Dante shakes his head. Right now, nothing else exists for him but making love to this beautiful woman – an experience he’ll not only treasure for the rest of his life, but will also be a springboard for better things. His whole life can change from this moment, like sex with Patricia will fast-track an education that will help him navigate or overcome all those obstacles that expose his shortcomings every day.
‘I can take you somewhere,’ Patricia says. ‘You can fuck me.’
She almost laughs, like fucking is something one does to another person. But men enjoy that illusion. They think it gives them superiority in sex. And she has had partners she has yielded to, but only because they were so skilled and selfless that she could let go. Otherwise, sex is a mutual obligation, a communion – not that that’s something Dante would understand. It’s simpler to hook him with the bait.
‘Do you want that?’ she asks. ‘Do you want to fuck me?’
Dante nods, not trusting himself to speak. He puts his cock away and zips up his pants.
Patricia’s mouth comes right up to Dante’s ear. ‘You sure?’ she says. ‘Nothing … is free.’
Patricia grabs his hand and pulls him out of the booth.
* * *
Flavia can’t see Dante from this angle as LeBeau continues to pound her up against the wall, but there are others in the Red Lounge. They all seem to be looking at her. She throws her arms out and slaps the glass just to make sure it’s there. Everybody in the Red Lounge continues to watch. They exchange comments. Some smile. Others shift, as if the sight is arousing them. She is sure they’re seeing her.
It’s too much. The octagon spins and lights flash in her eyes. Pleasure wracks her body. LeBeau slips from her as he runs kisses up her belly and over her breasts. He bites at her right nipple; she gasps. His lips are on hers. She pants into his mouth.
‘Already?’ he says.
‘For starters,’ Flavia says.
LeBeau kisses her. ‘It takes more than that to pass an audition.’
Flavia plants her hand on LeBeau’s chest. He flips onto his back and she rolls on top of him. So soon after orgasm she feels too sensitive to take him back in just yet. She sees that the booth Dante occupied is now empty. She scowls. Just as well. Her hand wraps around LeBeau’s cock and tugs at it playfully. She looks him in the eye, kisses his mouth, then runs kisses down his chest.
* * *
Two members of security accost Constance at the South Bar. One grabs her by the shoulder and spins her so she almost stumbles. She looks destitute compared to the others in here, like somebody homeless who’s snuck in to escape the cold.
‘Excuse me, ma’am,’ one of the security members says, addressing her without the faintest hint of recognition, ‘but you’ve failed to meet the dress standards. We’re going to have you to ask you to leave.’
Constance draws herself up, and even in her torn sandals, ripped jeans, and her sheer blouse, she is regal. They can take her position, they can take her authority, but they cannot take away from her who she has become. Behind her, Boyd and Ox rise, one to either side of her so that they flank her. The foolishness falls away from their faces.
They step forward, so that Constance is now protectively behind them. Security immediately recognises the threat. They reach for Boyd and Ox. The exchange is short, precise, and brutal. Both members of security are incapacitated quickly and drop to the floor.
Constance steps out from between Boyd and Ox. ‘Let’s go.’