“Well, that’s fine and all,” she’d said, “but just so you know, I don’t f**k on the first date.”
I’d been laughing when my assistant came in. I indicated she should sit and took the schedule she offered me. “I need you to get something to wear,” I said into the phone.
“Oh, not again.”
“Again and again. I’m in a meeting.” I looked over my schedule for the next day. “Can I text you?”
“You’re avoiding my refusal.”
“I won’t be late. So be ready. Dressed and ready.”
“Thanks for the clarification.”
I’d tossed the phone aside, glanced at my schedule, and glanced at Kristin. “I have a meeting with my ex-wife at six thirty?”
“You said to take any meeting she wanted.”
“I did. Cancel the meeting and cancel the standing order. She goes on the schedule like everyone else.” Kristin shook her foot and nodded, her body a barrel of emotional tells. She was so transparent, I had no idea how she’d gotten through Vassar without those bitches eating her alive. “Yes?”
“Are you making your lunch with Eddie tomorrow, or do you want to meet Gerald Deritts from Council 12? He called and had an opening on the mixed-use ordinance.”
“Sheila’s stuck on the 405. She’s added this to the agenda.” She’d handed me a folder.
“Ah, our trust,” I’d murmured as I flipped through it. When we got engaged, I set up a trust for Jessica that provided for everything she needed. Though she had taste and social standing, she couldn’t manage a dollar. When we divorced, I’d intended to revoke her benefits, but never had. I’d been such a pu**y. I’d told myself she hadn’t taken a dime from me because I needed to believe it. The withdrawals didn’t hurt me, but she’d continued to take money from the trust, and I owned the building her studio was in and didn’t charge her rent. There were other incidentals I’d probably forgotten. “Tell Sheila I want to review all my financial entanglements with my ex-wife. Book that for next week.”
Kristen had pursed her lips. I could have asked her what was on her mind, but it wasn’t worth a conversation. Her crush was cute when I’d hired her, but it was getting less so. I’d said no, I didn’t want to sleep with her. Further conversation about that, or why I wouldn’t bend over backward to see Jessica anymore, would be unproductive.
After dismissing Kristin, I’d tried to get back to work, but my thoughts were consumed with Monica. In anticipation of our date the next day, I opened an account at Bordelle for her. When I texted her the info, she shot back…
—An account? For all the girls?—
—Just opened it. Go. For me.—
The next day, she called me from the dressing room to thank me, and I couldn’t help it. I had to have her, and I did. She got on her knees when I told her to. She slipped easily into play and out again, becoming her witty, intelligent self seamlessly. She wasn’t intimidated by me. She teased and challenged me. She kissed like she meant it, and from the very first night, she enjoyed f**king without reservation or shame.
Monica was, in a word, perfect.
I was bag laden as I walked to the café. Jonathan had called Bordelle and told them to wrap up everything I’d put in the dressing room. So I went to Nordstrom’s and got my own goddamn dress. I hoped he liked it because it set me back two weeks’ tips, a lot of money for something that would end up draped over the chair on his porch. But I needed to feel right with myself. I accepted him as a dominant in bed, and that worked out very well for us. In the outside world, I was my own woman.
Except for the eight hundred dollars in lingerie.
I rushed to the entrance of Terra Café. Yvonne sat at a patio table with her fourteen-month-old, scooping ice cream out of a cup.
“Girl,” she said as we hugged, “where the hell have you been shopping? And what’s with the shoes?”
I tipped my foot to make the red sole visible. I wore the shoes I’d gotten at Barney’s more often than I should, but letting them sit at the bottom of my closet seemed a crime. Yvonne looked at me sidelong while she scooped ice cream. Her afro was teased to four times the size of her head, her eyes lined with gold, and her lips painted the exact chocolate color of her skin. She was simply gorgeous.
“You like them?” I asked.
“I know what they cost, so I know where you got them. So whether or not I like them depends.”
I sat down and ordered a green tea and a chocolaty cake thing. Aaron, in his striped shirt and overalls, sat with his mouth open. Vanilla ice cream dripped out of the corners of his mouth like he was a dairy vampire.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” she said. “Were you close?”
“She was like a sister to me.” I felt a little hitch in my throat, a sob pushing up from my gut. I swallowed it. I didn’t cry in public. In private, the past few days had been a rush of tears and beaten-back sorrow. “Anyway. It’s fine. I’m dealing with it. Still haven’t cleared out her room. But anyway… how’s school? It’s your last year, right?”
“Tryna get my thesis accepted. Thinking about doing gender instead of race. Something with women’s bodies and politics.”
“Sexual intersections.” My tea came.
“Oh, that’s good.” She scraped the bottom of the cup. “Now, I didn’t ask you to lunch to talk about UCLA.”
“The weather, then?”
“My boss? Your former boss? The hot motherfucker? Six two? Medium build? Reddish brown up top… and down below?”
“Not in front of the baby.”
“I hear he’s a freak.” I spit my tea. “Well,” she continued, “word gets around. So…” She slithered in her chair. “What. The. Fuck?”
“Yvonne, really. Totally inappropriate.” I looked at her over my cup, wishing for a quick and painless death. I’d known she wanted to ask me about Jonathan, but I didn’t know she was aware of his proclivities.
“He’s really private about who he’s…” She stopped herself. “… who he’s spending time with. But we all saw your picture from the L.A. Mod show in the paper. And it was no secret at your friend’s wake.”