Prudence

Prudence: Chapter 7c

Quinn remains on the floor, shivering. The bile is acrid in his mouth. He doesn’t know how long he has sat here, or how long he’ll remain. Maybe come the morning when they clean up, they’ll find him still here, and sweep him out with the rest of the trash.

He hears the door open. There’s a distinctly girlish giggle. Then a guy’s voice, young and unsure: ‘Hang on. I’ll check.’ Footsteps hurry into the bathroom. Then: ‘All clear!’ Quinn recognises that sharper clip of high heels across the floor. The door closes. Bodies collide. Breathlessness. The smacking of lips. Both sets of footsteps shuffling back. The door in the next cubicle thumps open so hard the walls of Quinn’s cubicle vibrate. The toilet seat is smacked down. More kissing. A girlish moan. The door closes. Latches.

‘You sure we’ll be okay in here?’ the girl asks.

The voice bears no resemblance to Amber’s, but in that instant Quinn’s sure it’s her. He pulls himself to his feet. He is not breathing and there’s a sharp pain in his right shoulder because his muscles have tightened.

‘Don’t worry,’ the guy says. ‘I hear couples do it here all the time.’

‘I just don’t want my boyfriend to find out!’

‘ I don’t want my wife to find out!’ the guy says.

They laugh, enjoying the humour in sharing a secret, of being illicit, of how the circumstances add excitement to their tryst. So easily are relationships and commitment navigated. These two will go home and think nothing more of what they’ve done – a drunken indiscretion, to be locked away in some recess of the mind … until another opportunity presents itself. Then it’s easy to rationalise that something done once without repercussion can be done again. I see it all the time when people come back. They might struggle to adapt to new jobs, new circumstances, to change in their life, but they adapt to transgression, and even come to a point where they seek it.

Quinn slumps against the cubicle wall. He closes his eyes. More kissing. The rustling of clothes. A zipper unzipping. The unmistakeable slither of panties sliding down a pair of legs, followed by the clank of pants – a belt with a heavy buckle unclasping and rattling – hitting the floor.

The girl moans. They’ve gone straight into it. No foreplay. There’s a collision of flesh and the cubicle shakes. Their rhythm is awkward, and the guy’s grunting is as loud as the girl’s hoarse whimpers. She tells him to fuck her harder. His efforts double. She commands him. Now there is a desperation to his ragged breath. He might’ve lured her in here, but she is in charge now.

Quinn pictures them as vain but confident, and although he was forming an image of what they looked like, it now metamorphoses into Savage and Amber, Amber with her legs wrapped around Savage’s hips, Savage spinning her around. He would not be clumsy. Who knows how many times he’s capitalised on a performance? There would certainly be no shortage of candidates. Amber will just be the latest conquest. Quinn can’t believe he’s given her away – that he’s paid Savage to seduce her because that’s the temptation Mr Hermes set him: the sacrifice of love. But what he hates most of all is how much she might enjoy it, and how he will become insignificant in comparison.

Tears brim in his eyes. He slaps the cubicle wall. The girl protests she heard something. The guy assures her it’s her imagination. A guffaw escapes Quinn’s lips. Now they stop to listen. Whatever else happens, Quinn cannot go through with this. It might mean his death, but better that be the case with a clear conscience. He takes a deep breath, then snarls when he exhales – just the way he used to psyche himself before games.

‘Hey!’ the guy says. ‘Who’s there?’

Quinn yanks open his cubicle door and strides from the bathroom, pausing in the juncture. He has no idea where to begin and he could already be too late. It could be happening this very moment in some secluded corner. Savage might’ve even taken her into the parking lot. Quinn’s breathing becomes sharp and that pain that was in his shoulder now jags down his chest. He needs to keep calm, to deal with what he can control.

He looks around frantically. Where to begin? There are so many alternatives. He decides to start in the last place he saw her: Savage’s gaming room. It seems as logical an option as any.

The juncture is busier than ever, with lots of security whisking forward. There must be a fight somewhere. It makes moving difficult, as people have clustered to try get a look at what’s happening. Quinn excuses himself constantly and shoves his way through.

The crowds thin throughout the gaming rooms, but it turns out only because they’ve congregated into one. People spill from the archway. Others jump, pushing themselves off the shoulders of those in front to see what’s going on. There’s a chorus of cheers and encouragement.

Quinn feels the dread build up in his chest. They’re watching Savage fuck Amber on the pool table. He’s so sure of it he can visualise it.

He has never been a violent person – has never had inclination towards violence – but now he moves with that purposefulness and intensity that drove him on the basketball court and made him such a hot prospect. He recaptures that single-mindedness and drives his way through. Bodies swallow him up. He can’t breathe. The stench of sweat fills his nostrils. Screams fills his ears, as well as the smack of flesh.

Quinn burrows forward with his shoulder, although given his height it’s his elbow that shears its way through. Faceless people complain. He stumbles, trips, and falls to his knees. There are butts all around him – women’s butts. The demographic of the crowd has changed. It’s made it easier for him to clear a way as he flails his arms.

He falls into the room, and lands face-down on the carpet. Nobody cares. He looks up. There are two women at the pool table, one to either side: one’s a slightly plump brunette, the other is a girl who looks to be only a teenager. They’re each swinging something. It takes Quinn several moments to realise they’re belts. He sees their own clothes are dishevelled – possibly belts from their own attire.

He pushes himself to his knees and sees Marcus lying face down and naked on the pool table, his hands and ankles tied to the cups of the corner pockets with stockings, his mouth gagged with something black and lace – somebody’s panties. He shrieks each time the plump brunette and teenager strap him. Hordes of women fill each archway, cheering them on. The brunette wipes her brow. A blonde darts forward and relieves her of the belt. The blonde begins strapping; the brunette retreats into the crowd. Somebody gives her a drink, perhaps in reward.

Marcus looks at Quinn imploringly, eyes teary from the pain. Quinn rises unsteadily to his feet. He can see angry red welts across Marcus’s back and hamstrings, and particularly across the buttocks. Quinn has no idea how this situation has unfolded but he needs to be out of it. It might be cowardice to leave Marcus, or disloyal, but Quinn also knows that Marcus has done something to deserve it. Something like this does not happen spontaneously, or by accident.

Quinn staggers back into the crowd and almost knocks over a redhead.

‘Hey!’

Quinn turns and apologises to the owner of the voice. It’s Gabriella. He places her instantly – she was cheering Amber on. He seizes her hands. She tries to pull back, but then stops, as if recognising him – or perhaps she just recognises his desperation.

‘You were here before!’ Quinn says. ‘Where’s Amber?’

Gabriella’s mouth opens but she says nothing.

‘Please! Tell me!’ Quinn squeezes her hands. ‘Please!’

‘Who are you?’

‘Her boyfriend!’

Gabriella’s eyes widen.

‘Please! I love her! I need to find her!’

‘The restaurant,’ Gabriella says. ‘That’s where I left her.’

Quinn impulsively hugs her. When he breaks away, the women around Gabriella have parted to let him through.

‘Thank you!’ he says.

He hurries from the gaming room, the cheers receding behind him, hoping he’s not too late. Back in the juncture, people are crowded around the entry to the Gallery; some have climbed onto the shoulders of those in front of them. Absently, Quinn wonders if another strapping’s occurring. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s not his destination.

He speeds through the juncture, past the Red, Yellow, and Blue Lounges, before coming to the entrance of the restaurant. He skids to a halt.

Savage holds Amber in one arm as he looks down at her. She stares back up at him. They’re frozen in that moment, wrapped in the insidious promise of lust and the erasure of all inhibition.

All reason evaporates. Reason won’t do.

Instead, Quinn picks up a nearby chair and, roaring, charges Savage.

* * *

Holly sits on a toilet in a cubicle, arms wrapped around her shoulders and trembling. There are no tears and she is unsure what to make of what she’s feeling. The coldness she’d felt towards Marcus has evolved into something else. Loathing? Not quite. But it’s not something she’s felt before. Rage, perhaps? She has been angry in her life, but never enraged in a way that she has transcended all reason.

She sits up. This is the very cubicle she used earlier to masturbate. That seems forever ago now. But it was such a wanton act, one almost shameless given the circumstances – just like the fornication with the two business executives. Marcus was right: he might’ve put the gun in her hand, but she pulled the trigger, and she did it obliviously.

Jumping to her feet, she pitches her head over the toilet bowl and is sure she’s going to vomit, but nothing comes up. Her throat gags. She wishes she could regurgitate the last week. She wishes she could undo this entire holiday, and her relationship with Marcus.

She wriggles her engagement ring off her finger, taking skin with it. For a moment, she holds it in her palm, reminded of when Marcus got on one knee in the middle of a fancy restaurant and proffered the ring. It was such an uncharacteristic act – Marcus, who spoke so bluntly, liked to push boundaries, and grab her butt in public. This was a romantic side that had overwhelmed her.

She should give the ring back to Marcus, but given the money he’s made, a piddling ring will be hardly worth his while. She does not know that Marcus’s mother gave it to him; of her four sons, he was the one child she thought would never settle down, so the ring was a seed she planted so that he would think about it. And he did, although his mother never envisaged how he would see a lifelong relationship.

Holly throws the ring in the toilet and flushes, not waiting to see if the water takes it away, or if it just sits at the bottom of the bowl, waiting for whoever to come discover it. Now it’s not only like a weight has been lifted from her, but a tether has also been severed.

She is free now.

And so is her rage.

Throwing open the cubicle door, she hurries from the bathroom, down the juncture, and into the Blue Lounge. Everybody is a blur to her. They might as well not be here. They don’t matter. Nothing does. She’s unsure whether anything will again.

She heads over to Mr Hermes’s booth, just as Noah is getting up and leaving it. Just like she knows she cannot blame Marcus, neither can she hold Mr Hermes responsible – at least not entirely. Still, the sight of him, so prim, so composed, the corners of his mouth slightly curved, infuriate her.

‘You fucking cunt!’ she says.

Mr Hermes’s brows arch, as if her language both offends and pleases him. Noah stops not far from Holly. She is aware of other patrons staring at her, shocked or amused.

‘Do you get a kick out of doing this?’ she goes on. ‘Ruining people’s lives?’

‘I would think I liberated you, Holly,’ Mr Hermes says.

Liberated?’

‘Your fiancé has been revealed to you as unconscionable. Do you think if he hadn’t pursued this temptation, this aspect of his character wouldn’t have existed? Can I be blamed because he was capable of this choice? All I did was show you the person he truly is. You should be thanking me—’

‘Thanking—?’

‘Yes, Holly.’

Now, Mr Hermes’s voice is sharp, and his eyes narrow. While he may appear just an old man, there is something so cold about him that it is bereft of all compassion, all empathy, all humanity. Perhaps it is something that has been lost over the years he has offered these temptations, or sacrificed from his decades of pursuing avarice. Perhaps it just never was and there is only a vacuum, one he tries to fill with the humiliation and decadence of others.

‘You can bark at me all you like,’ he goes on. ‘Out of the kindness of my heart, I even set you a temptation offering you the scope to mend your relationship. I offered you a million dollars to consummate your relationship. That’s all you had to do – something you’ve done countless times before with your finance. Something you did for much less with two strangers. Instead, when you looked upon him, all you saw was rage.’

‘You …!’ Holly says. ‘You …!’

Because how else would she react once she’d spoken to Mr Hermes and learned that Marcus had engineered her threesome? Mr Hermes read her perfectly. She was indignant that she had been played. The sight of Marcus had infuriated and focused her, until she became a detached inquisitor seeking only to to wrest the truth from his smug, arrogant manner, as if that would force him to take responsibility.

She picks up Noah’s empty scotch glass and lunges at Mr Hermes. He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t move an inch. Arms wrap around Holly’s waist and drag her back. She kicks and flails but is dragged away. Holly wants to scream at him but she cannot form the words.

She’s plonked unceremoniously onto a barstool. She had thought security had seized her, but it’s Noah.

‘Calm down,’ he says. He gestures to the bartender with two fingers.

‘Who’re you meant to be?’ Holly says.

She’s still glaring at Mr Hermes. He’s still smiling at her. Holly begins to slip from the stool, her feet planting into the floor. Noah’s hand closes on her shoulder. Holly is about to tell him to let her go, but the words die as she sees he has a gun shoved down the waistline of his pants.

‘Noah,’ he tells her. ‘Just take it easy, okay?’

Holly doesn’t answer. The bartender puts two scotch rocks down on the bar in front of them. Holly picks up one of the glasses and downs it in a single swallow, grimacing as the scotch burns at her throat and her eyes water. Scotch is not her drink. Noah chuckles. She takes his drink and gulps that down, too.

‘Another?’ he asks.

Holly spins on the stool, plants her elbows on the bar, and runs her hands through her mess of blonde hair. Her rage is not spent, but now she sees the futility of it all – her relationship, Mr Hermes’s temptation, and facing both him and Marcus down. All just games people play, just as she chose to play one with her threesome.

But now, it’s all meaningless. Things she thought she understood have unravelled. She is just a stupid young woman thousands of miles from home who has lost the certainties of everything she knew. Now she struggles to reconcile what happens after the rage, or even if she can leave it behind.

‘Why the fuck not?’ she says.

Noah gestures to the bartender once more.

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