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“I’m really quite boring. I’ve had a pretty uneventful life thus far.” Nigel’s words slid through his intoxicated smile, landed in the glass of brown liquid he put to his lips.
The brunette across from him, all legs and hair and strong Australian accent, was flirting, tanned leg bouncing softly, sliding against his jeans. Close. Body language had always been a source of fascination for him. So much communication could be relayed with so little words. Women who had mastered the art of subtle, nonverbal communication were his weakness. Rubik’s Cube personalities drew him in.
She bit the lip above her dimpled chin, cast a sly, stormy blue stare his way. Gleaming hair made for a Paul Mitchell commercial cascaded down the bare shoulders hoisting her tilted, elegant neck.
“So you’re a liar as well. Figures. Lawyer, liar, close enough.” She stood, moved closer, stared him down from above. Five inch heels added to five feet and ten inches of thin, svelte angles. A cloud of sweet smelling air wafted his way.
“Well living in the whole truth isn’t much fun.”
She’d entered his night unexpectedly, appeared next to him with a smile as he sat alone, ruminating on sour note thoughts, coddling his thirty-five-dollar glass of bourbon, neat. He’d recognized her deep sea eyes and alluring smirk right away, as she’d expected him too.
What better time, what better place, than new year’s eve in Las Vegas to have a chance encounter with the face and body that was a picture of perfection on magazine covers across the nation.
“I’m sorry. You smell … intoxicating. I can’t focus.”
“Prada. You should buy your girlfriend some one day. She’ll love it.” She winked, tapped her forefinger against the plush ivory napkin on the bar in front of her.
Within thirty seconds, a bartender, tall and blond, wearing a smile that was surely whitened to “blinding” just before his shift, had replaced her empty shot glass with one filled to the brim.
Beyond the supple leather, $500 bottles of champagne, and closed doors of the room surrounding them, top forty hits boomed through the walls of the main dance floor; writhing bodies moving in dresses far above the knees, and slim fitting, testicle-hugging jeans bouncing against them.
“Ah. No, I do not have a girlfriend. But thanks for asking.” Nigel chuckled, eyes climbed up her legs. Despite his efforts to keep his mind clean, he’d already calculated five positions he could twist her in, seeing her lithe frame and light weight. “…And did your boyfriend buy you this lovely scent?”
He watched her head shoot back, clear liquid poison disappear against pouty ruby lips.
‘No. He didn’t. He bought me this.” Her left hand came into view, shimmery gold nails accenting the huge diamond taking up most of her ring finger.
His eyebrows climbed upward. “Pink diamond. Impressive. And what’d you get him?”
“A nice big Fuck You, is what. It’s an apology ring.” She looked down at her hand, tilted it this way and that, pushed it away from her, gazed with disappointment at arm’s length. The muted lights adorning the decadence surrounding them caught it’s cut, glittered like the shining glass balls hanging from the ceiling. Even in the dim of the club, it shone.
“Well, damn. Poor guy.”
She paused, snapped her head upright. “Worrying about the guy I used to fuck is the antithesis of sexy.”
Genuine laughter bellowed from him this time. “Antithesis. Nice. I see you’re just as foul-mouthed as the day you left Columbia.”
“Makeup and glossy photos can’t change interiors. My edges have softened a little though. I’m just honest, which is more than I can say for you.”
“An honest asshole.”
“Well, that’s the fun in living truthfully.”
His mind traveled back to his last year of law school, remembered the moment he bumped into a skinny white girl, all limbs and thick chocolate hair, on his way to a meeting. He excused himself. She pointed him towards hell with her middle finger, told him he had rude eyes.
The beautiful Australian freshman with an affinity for tank tops fabric-painted with profane messages, jean overalls, and sneakers. She was a tomboy through and through. He didn’t understand why someone so beautiful would mar her appearance with such despicable presentation. When he’d told her that in much harsher phrasing, her frown had climbed in the opposite direction, revealing a perfect smile. A kindred rude soul. Their unlikely friendship had formed in the days following that insult; movie dates, intellectual debates, and shoulders to cry on when one of them encountered someone unworthy. Most of all, just someone who “got” the other.
“So where are your friends? No one without a severe gambling problem comes to Vegas alone. Especially two hours before midnight on new year’s eve.” She bit her bottom lip again, snaked her hand in the one he had resting on her small waist.
“Fishing.” He shrugged.
After several unsuccessful attempts at convincing him to join them, Aaron, their friend Stoney and two frat brothers of Aaron’s had left him with his thoughts, in search of a Hangover-worthy trip. It seemed pretty pointless to come to Vegas and not have such an experience, but there was time for that. He’d just wanted to chill for a while, enjoy the scenery of skin and smiles and four inch heels. Club XS was the perfect place to do so.
“Can’t believe you still refer to meeting women as fishing.”
“Locs and money don’t change the interior either.”
Her gold heels took a step back, hand still holding his. “Let’s walk.”
She was so beautiful.
Admiring her on television screens and magazine covers was nothing like being in her presence. Even before she was famous. Her presence was a stroke on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A chisel on an ancient Greek statue. Her laugh was a burst of fireworks, her stare the licking flames of a bonfire. Elation was building a home inside him; he found himself suppressing smiles, fear waving a warning flag to be mindful, not get too happy. She’d disappeared once, she could again.
“Wow, didn’t really think it was possible for Vegas to outdo herself. But here she is, aglow in this light shower. I love this place. So full of hope. Misguided, ill-placed hope. But hope. It’s so human here.” Mara’s blue eyes fell over the landscape around them, lighting up with each new turn.
A shiny, hedonistic city known for it’s sin and enabling of addictions, she called hopeful. That was one smile he couldn’t repress. Her genuine optimism had always amused him. The most positive asshole he’d ever known.
Questions ran through his head like a derailed train as they walked, wild and unbridled. Why she’d not answered his attempts at communication for all this time. Why had she been avoiding someone she’d called her best friend for three inseparable years. How could she be everywhere he looked, and still so far away.
He missed her.
In all his life, he’d had only two friends with breasts. She was the first. He wanted to know why she’d changed on him suddenly. Why she’d abandoned him with unanswered emails and avoided phone calls. What had he done?
Tonight was not the time to rehash old memories, soil the evening with unresolved issues, though.
Tonight, he’d enjoy her fireworks.
“Funny running into you. My psychic told me I’d get a chance to close some unpleasant doors this week. And my therapist told me to not bring old laundry into 2011.” She looked up at him matter-of-factly, waited.
Mara’s affinity for psychic guidance didn’t surprise him, went all the way back to undergrad. He’d had to oppose the “she fine but she crazy” mentality to his friends more than a few times.
A steady stream of loud, smiling faces, headbands adorned with festive silver tinsel, feathers, and glitter atop their heads walked by, already swayed with their drug of choice.
He turned his head to the towering Venetian on his left, its inviting grandeur and gondola rides under the stars. There went the thought of this conversation waiting until next year.
“I’m an unpleasant door? Are we really going to do this right now?” He stuffed his hands in the pockets on his jacket, finally met her awaiting gaze.
“Shit doesn’t go away just because you don’t look at it, fucker. The smell just becomes worse. This has been smelling like rotten rubbish for a long time.”
He took a breath, shook his head. Asking her not to call him fucker would be futile, as it always was. He looked at her softly, asked her why she’d disappeared.
“I was following your wishes, fucker.” Her voice was low, now she kept her head bow-and -arrow straight, refused to look up at him. Stared into the pretty lights in the distance.
The crowd grew like wildflowers, more and more bodies on the strip as they headed to MGM, where she said she was meeting friends.
“…My wish was for you to abandon our friendship? You’re crazy.” He looked down at her small face, model features masked with sadness now. Her eyes far away, back seven years ago, when they were so close they could switch pulses and not know.
“I cried for three days after I read that email, Nigel. I shouldn’t even be talking to you.”
“Wait, what?” His mind whirred, searching for a clue as to what she was talking about. Him push her away? He’d never.
“And I hope that evil bitch broke your heart.”
“Wow. Toni?…” His face dropped with realization. “I never sent you an email saying anything but begging you to talk to me, Marabell.”
“Don’t you call me Marabell. Not now.”
Vulnerability glistened in her eyes, small and innocent. She didn’t know whether or not to believe him. She focused on her nails, shimmering among the bright lights. “I saw your face all over the news when that scandal broke about that court case. Followed every news story. Every blog online. When I tried to reach out, everyone, including my publicist, told me to let it die down first. You know I wanted to be there. I was the one telling you to be careful dealing with that bitch and her corporate criminal of a father. Then I received this heap shit email. It said you had too much on your plate, that you needed to focus on Toni and straightening up your image. Be the perfect couple.”
At this, rage coursed, set his veins on fire. “Come on Mara, and you bought that? I’d never say that. You know that. I’d never. Toni must’ve sent it.”
“You weren’t returning my calls or messages. Why wouldn’t I?” A lone tear dripped over her persistent red lipstick, out of heavily-lined smoky eyes. “I hate crying. Bastard.”
“The fucking nerve. Her father was the source of that drama. That woman was batshit crazy.” He pulled her to him, wrapped long arms around her frail frame. Cloaked her with an embrace weighted with six years of absence. Of apology. “I promise, Marabell. I didn’t get one message. Not one call.” He kissed her forehead, smoothed her thick hair with his palm.
Toni had done nothing short of create a Hades of his life when it revolved around her. Jealous, conniving, evil. If only he could go back in time.
“Well then I hope you broke her heart.” She choked on a small laugh, dotted her eye with her middle finger, searched the small gold clutch in her opposite hand for tissue.
They ribboned on through the still growing crowd, silent and high on the presence of each other, wine and spirits flowing in warm bloodstreams. A group of girls glowing with the wide-eyed, just-turned-21 air of mischievousness recognized Mara’s famous face in the darkness, stared with intimidated, nail-biting questions that never left their tongues, whispered “that must be her bodyguard” as they walked past.
Mara smiled, waved at their failure in discretion. Five minutes later, she had signed three napkins from Luxor and smiled in five iPhone photos, surely to hit Facebook before they made it across the street.
Minutes sailed by, became an hour lost in a sea of cleared up misunderstandings and years-old bruised feelings. He felt an apology come every five minutes. She told him to stop, enjoy their now.
11:30 p.m. on New years eve. The time to do your one last egregious act before cleansing yourself, renewing old, soon to be forgotten goals for the coming year. He looked around, palm trees waving in the wind, imagined Vegas the perfect place to perform such an act.
“I used to believe in soulmates. So strongly. I was such a stupid kid. So self-important. So dreamy.” Mara’s tone was sing-songy now, eyes wistful, thumbs rubbing a “Would You Like To Meet Your Soulmate Tomorrow?” flier a scrawny man in a red top hat had just given her.
“Well, hey. I used to believe in love.”
She stopped, blue gaze became darker. “Never stop believing in that, Nigel. To love is to be human. Without belief in love you’re just passing days, waiting to die.”
“Sounds like a line in a corny chick flick. You’re getting soft, Ms. Belcher.”
Her laugh was sudden, genuine. She slapped his shoulder roughly, pushed a tuft of heavy hair behind her right ear. “Just because it’s in a movie doesn’t make it less true.”
“Chick flicks are meant to have happy endings. Love doesn’t always. Love ruins good things.”
“Love doesn’t ruin people. People ruin love. And people ruin people. Bad decisions yield bad results, Nigel. So basically, stop dating selfish bitches. That seemed to be your taste. I’m sure that hasn’t changed much.” Her Aussie accent softened words, made everything sound less rude than it was.
It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t thought about Jade one time since Mara had sauntered into his night. He dared not look at his phone. He’d purposely put it on silent, wanted no part of anything 313 related. Absent of the agony his tunneled vision had created, he realized how inhaling didn’t labor him, how air flowed easier without the unyielding brick in his chest, even if only temporary.
His steps paused at this thought, eyes found the ground. Something broke in him, so audibly that he looked over at her dewy face to see if she’d heard it. One never knew how heavy with emotional burden they were until they encountered someone sprinting along with their light load; free. So much bullshit had taken residence in his life since he last spoke to Mara. So much success. So much failure.
And then, he started talking. Up until this moment, he’d had no one to confide in about his life. He was a private person, a vault rarely unlocked. But even the most clandestine of natures needed an outlet. Words escaped his brain like felons in a prison riot, flooded out into the balmy air, into the space between them. She picked them up, examined them, held on to the important ones. Mara had the gift of always knowing the right questions to ask to make someone reveal more than they’d planned to.
He updated what she didn’t know from the press on Nathaniel. told her about Jade. About the torturous triangle he’d been a part of for the last six years. Cringed at the memory of his and Toni’s last words, how she’d nearly ruined Jade’s life, only for Jade to now be ruining his.
Midnight found them still outside, hands interlocked, kissing to a chorus of “Happy New Year!” screams as fireworks lit up the Las Vegas night.
“So there isn’t anything you want? Nothing?” Mara’s morning voice was deeper than usual, hoarse from the many shots that burned down her esophagus the night before. She popped a lush green grape in her mouth, a breakfast spread fit for a royal family splayed out on silver trays atop the all white bed in front of them.
“Everything I want right now, I have.” Nigel replied, looking out one of the expansive windows in the overly luxurious MGM Skyloft they’d spent the night in.
Being around Mara, he now understood how celebrities could become out of touch with the real world. She lived a nonstop fantasy. The excessive catering, the tripping over themselves to serve, to please. Everyone wanted to be in her favor. She was like a walking sunbeam; people just wanted to bask in her glow, experience a piece of her shine. Luxuries, rides in insanely expensive cars, food.. everything was comped. The most outlandish requests were met with “no problem” and “anything else?”
“You have a million dollars?” She popped another grape, folded long legs fit with black lacy boyshorts under herself. Hundreds of photoshoots and nude backstage “quick changes” during runway shows had all but removed any modesty or discomfort she had with baring skin around him.
“Don’t want that.”
“You’d be surprised how many problems a million dollars solves. Definitely wouldn’t be alone on December 31st if you had that.”
He smiled, threw a grape her way. “That your way of telling me I was a pity date?”
“My way of telling you to increase your income. You’re nearly famous anyway. Be a celebrity lawyer or something. These crazy bitches are always in need of representation. Lohan alone could get you to a mil.” She rose, walked her long taupe body across the white comforter, landed with a light thud when she hopped off. Black lace that matched her underwear covered two bee stings. “Orange juice?”
“Nah, I’m good. And more money, more problems. The good prophet Biggie told me that.”
She returned, glass in hand. Reclined, scooted her body closer to his. Mixed his already heady feeling with her euphoric perfume.
He wanted to freeze this moment. Stay here, with her. Escape life and live in a skyloft with the only person he’d ever allowed to call him fucker more than his birthright.
Last night came back in flashes. There was bourbon. Walking for what seemed like hours. The draining of years of stored up conversations. Soft, pouty lips kissing his under an audience of green palms. Shots of varying brown and clear liquids, one after the other. Provocative dances, ass on pelvis on hips on hands, swaying like the trees outside, slow, grinding. Three a.m. kobe burgers delivered by a butler. The slinking of a short gold dress to the floor. Buttons ripped, removed from his shirt. The fervent kissing of collar bones, necks, torsos. The touching of silky skin against skin.
“Biggie’s dead.” She said, smirking up at him. She’d traded last night’s dramatic makeup for a clean face and a swipe of La Mer lip balm, now appearing five years younger than she was. Shiny brown hair swept up into a long ponytail away from her face.
“…Exactly. More money, more problems.”
He breathed in heavily, reached for the phone he hadn’t checked since yesterday. Messages from Aaron, wondering where he was. Nathaniel, wondering the same thing. Friends, colleagues, and people he hadn’t talked to the whole of 2010, wishing him a happy new year. Three missed calls from Jade.
Nothing in him felt inclined to listen to her traitorous words. Nothing felt moved to want to return her call.
Mara noticed his furrowed brow, the disapproving lines that formed on his face. “Just listen to the voice mail at least.” She stroked his bare back, climbed her hands up the locs swinging against it.
He shook his head, locs rubbing his skin lightly. “Don’t feel like dealing with that today.”
“I tried to sleep with you last night. Me. You turned ME down. I spent my new year’s eve with you and didn’t get laid. And I’m damn hot, fucker. You’re in love, Nigel. Accept it. Seems like some kind of fucked up, Cain and Abel type love, but … who are you to deny your heart? Be human for once.”
“What’s your obsession with being human? I can’t be anything but. Told you, love ruins things.” Nigel said, still mad at himself for allowing someone into such depths of him.
He hadn’t told Mara about the baby. Couldn’t let his most devastating secret out. Couldn’t even form the words to say it if he’d tried.
“The human experience is all we have. Nothing else matters. If you don’t allow yourself to feel, what defines your life? Empty time. And then yours ends and people cry for a moment, and go on with their lives. No one else gives a shit about making your experience a happy one. You have to.”
Before he could convince himself otherwise, he had his phone to his ear, if only to stop Mara’s diatribe. When she got preachy, her accent became thick, words running fast together, made it hard for even him to understand.
Jade’s voice was somber, quiet. “Nigel. Please love, please just answer. I–”
His hand put the phone down on his black shorts, face down. Fuck. With her voice rushed in a flood of memories he’d rather have kept at bay. The ache had finally subsided. Going back to that was not an option.
“Nigel, listen to the messages. What if she’s sick or something?” Mara’s still deepened voice broke through his haze.
He picked the phone back up, skipped to Jade’s last message. “Fine Nigel. Make me talk to your voice mail like a stranger. I didn’t do it, okay.” Tears clogged her throat, muffled the words he couldn’t believe he’d just heard. “I didn’t go through with it. I just couldn’t. I don’t know what to do, Nigel. Please call me back. Please … just call me back.” The call ended, her quiet sobs still playing in his ear.
His heart burst into flames.
The black phone hit the wall with such a force, a lamp perched on a shelf above it fell to it’s death. Crashed like the world around him.