I've been here a hundred times, our regular Friday night warm down after another miserable week on the Hill. Tonight Jasmine couldn't make it on account of media reports of her guy being involved in another sex scandal. My guy is squeaky clean. I took this job, we all took our jobs because we wanted to make a difference – turns out we're we just fire-fighters wearing skirts and using lipstick.
"Let's do a couple shots," says Violet.
"NO!" I vigorously shake my head. "Remember last time? It did not end well."
"Just one," she urges. "You know you want to."
"Do you believe in a higher power?" I reply, pointing to the chalked cocktail list. "Fourth one down – that's definitely a sign!"
She reads then laughs. "Slippery Slope . . . yeah, I hear you. Best hold the shots."
Surprise. It's raining in DC. I'm in the King's Bar with one of my girlfriends after work. There's usually three of us but Janie's not here tonight. Even though she bats for the other side, in more ways than one . . . she's not a big fan of the dumb stick. still our friend. We're here unwinding, looking forward to the weekend, making plans. Hopefully there'll be no drama, our phones won't ring. We're both watching the weather girl on the TV screens: according to the forecast there's a 40% chance of rain on Sunday.
"Typical." says Violet. "The DNC's barbecue's cancelled for sure. I've no excuses now. I gotta back to New Jersey, spend the weekend with my parents." She appeared thoughtful as she sipped her wine. "Do you ever go back home? You know . . . to visit."
"After the way I left?" Changing the subject, I focussed my attention on the front windows. "Ha-ha! The barbecue is toast . . . I've always wanted to say that." I laugh. "It’s not like I wanted to go anyway. I'd rather spend my day on the couch with a good book."
"Is good book code for watching porn?"
"I'm a single girl. Piggly Wiggly is all the happiness I get." I laugh.
"Piggly Wiggly. I've never heard it call that. Is that what the kids are calling it?"
"That's what I've always called it."
"Fun fact. The Piggly Wiggly Corporation are credited with inventing the concept of self-service."
"Naughty girl." Violet laughs. "Perhaps you can afford to lie around pleasuring yourself silly all weekend, but I can't. My guy's barely within the margin of error. Your guy's sitting pretty with a 30 point lead. Everybody loves him. Even the President called him ' a good man in a storm'.
"Good man in a storm . . . What does that even mean?"
"No idea but it sounds good – it's like his brand. My guy's got nothing, and if my guy loses – I'm out of a job."
"Your guy's old, like 100 years-old, and a sexual pervert." I scoff. "He's probably gonna croak before the mid-terms. Face it, you were gonna have to find a new guy soon anyway."
"Or girl," she muses.
"Yeah, you could lobby the Mexican."
"Her parents come from El Salvador, and don't be so ridiculous. No way can I be an aide to somebody younger than me."
"You need to do something. Your man's going to be ousted. He's a pro-life Democrat . . . How does that even work?"
"Like you said . . . he's a 100 years old. It's not like he's going to change. And, no, we're not going to have another conversation about a woman's right to choose."
I raise my glass. "I'll drink to that. "Violet, it's time to move on, find a new candidate. You and I both know what the score is. You're a black woman. In this political climate you're gold. Without you standing next to your guy whenever there's a camera around – he's fucked. You're worth five, maybe ten points."
"I can't believe –"
"Excuse me, ladies . . . What's your poison?" The bartender informs us a guy at the far end of the bar wants to send a couple of drinks in our direction . I check the guy out: charcoal-grey Armani suit, lawyer, lobbyist maybe? Violet says he's hot. I agree, he's cute enough, nice smile but no, I shake my head and tell the bartender, "NO thank you." I send the drinks back. I'm not that girl. That's not what I came to Washington for.
After witnessing our rejection of his kind offer, the cute Armani guy turns his bottom lip over and pretends to cry – he's funny.
"Duty calls." My girlfriend gets a call on her cell. Her boss has landed a spot on CNN. She needs to rush back to the office to prepare talking points.
"Can't you do it by email? It's still raining and the sky is hazy shade of winter." I say.
Violet frowns. "Are you seriously quoting song lyrics at me?"
"I don't know your people's music to well. Maybe I picked up something on radio."
"Girlfriend, you are priceless." She throws her bag over her shoulder. "Again, he's a very old guy. He doesn't do technology. Besides, he's paranoid. Every time I mention email he say's they'll never do to him what they did to Hillary."
"Have a good weekend." I wave her away.
"Enjoy the Piggly Wiggly. Love you."
"Me too," I reply.
I stay to finish my drink. It's 2018 – a girl can drink alone in a bar can't she? So, the Armani guy . . . he comes over and takes the spot my girlfriend vacated. "Are you sure I can't buy you a drink?" he asks.
I tell him, "NO, I'm fine."
"Come on," he urges, observing my half-empty glass. "One little drink never killed anybody."
I sigh. "Famous last words."
He does that thing again, turning over his bottom lip like a sulking child.
"Don't be so juvenile," I say.
He leans closer to whisper. "I can do childish way better than I do juvenile. Do you want to see a grown man throw himself to floor screaming, I hate you. It's so unfair!"
"How many times has that worked for you?" I twist slightly on my stool, extending a hand , gesturing he should go ahead with his floor show.
"Come on," he pleads. "You're not going leave me here drinking on my lonesome?"
I fold my arms across my chest in defiance. "Why can't you take no for answer?"
He shrugs and grins. "God loves a tryer." His eyes fall on my glass. "What is that anyway?"
"Jacob's Creek," I tell him.
"Cool." He orders a bottle of Budweiser and a glass of Jacob's Creek. He sets the wine glass in front of me. I catch a whiff of his scent. He smells nice – Hugo Boss, I think. His nails are manicured and there's no wedding ring.
"NO," I tell him. "Whatever ideas are in that head of yours – it's not happening."
I laugh with him.
The bartender sets the drink in front of me. I eye the glass as a few bubbles rise to surface. The freshly poured wine is fresh, chilled, from newly opened bottle. I find myself raising it to my lips.
I keep a mental count. I had one drink with my girlfriend, Violet, and Mr Armani has bought me two, that makes three. I'm good with three – still in full control of my faculties. I'd planned to be home by now, my belly's going to start rumbling if I don't get some food.
He catches me perusing the menu, considering ordering a bar snack.
"I'm hungry too, he says. "But deep-fried spicy chicken wings won't do it for me. I need proper food, good food. I'm not too familiar with this part of town. Here's a plan, you pick a restaurant, any restaurant, the fanciest restaurant in town? I'll treat you."
"Nice try," I tell him. "But NO. Not today. You should save your money." I note: Mr Armani is polite, articulate, and has potential. I'm going home after this drink. But if he asks, he's made the cut. He can totally get my number. Maybe there's an alternative to the Piggly Wiggly on Sunday.
He studies me briefly. "What are you thinking about?"
"Shopping, groceries . . ."
"I see . . ." Before I can object, he signals the bartender for two more drinks. "What brings you here, to this place?"
I roll my eyes. "Me and my girlfriend came her for compete makeovers: new hairdos, extensions and highlights, a full body wax, and a manicure but it turns out bars don't generally do stuff like that, who knew? . . . So, rather than sitting here looking stupid we ordered some drinks."
"They're definitely missing an opportunity. Maybe full service bars could be a thing? The sign says this place is all you need. Maybe you could sue."
The bartender sets the drinks down and scurries away.
"Sue?" I slide the wine glass toward me. "Are you a lawyer?"
"No." I just work on the Hill."
He watches me raise the wine glass to my lips.
"It's just a drink. Don't get your hopes up," I tell him. "You're wasting your time. I'm not one of those girls."
It turns out Mr Armani has a name - Dominic Hunter. He opens the door for me. I enter the restaurant and I'm instantly in awe. Nothing sleazy about this place. Giovanni's is all candles and string quartets. This is how the other half lives. The ladies are wearing cocktail dresses. I suspect many men have taken a knee and popped the question in here. I feel out of place in my Calvin Klein skirt-suit that I wear for work, one of three that I bought at Macy's – they we're on sale. The occasion screams romance but my attire says business. I feel inappropriately dressed.
Proving himself an attentive type, he senses my discomfort, removes his tie to appear attired more casually, and asks if I'd like a glass of wine.
I tell him, "NO thank you."
I'm in heaven, and have deeper understanding of the expression, wined and dined. The Carbonara was exquisite, to die for – it'll put pounds on my butt. I've no recollection of when the bottle of Prosecco arrived but it's empty now.
Dominic lightly taps his stomach. "I'm full. No more room at the inn. I think I'll skip dessert."
"Me too," I agree, slouching in my chair. My mind compares his behaviour to that of my ex. Brett would belch loudly after a hefty meal – the man-child was an embarrassment.
Dominic signals for the check.
I recount my drinks: four in The Kings Bar and two, maybe three in here. That's me done for the night – definitely. If I was feeling slightly tipsy the numbers on the bill sober me up - more than I earn in a week. I can't afford this but I don't want to feel obligated in any way. "Let's split this," I say.
"Maybe next time," he replies, selecting one from his full desk of credit cards. "I said this is my treat."
We wait on the street outside the restaurant. The rain has relented. Dominic's hails a cab. "After you, beautiful," he says, opening the door.
"I'm not going home with you," I say.
"But the night is still young," he insists.
"NO," I tell him., taking my phone from my bag. "I'm going home, to my house – where I live. I'll get an Uber."
"Don't be silly," he says. "I'm not leaving you out here on your own."
"I'll be fine."
"You and I both know . . . The District of Columbia isn't exactly 2nd Amendment friendly. How's a girl like you supposed to defend herself?"
"I've managed fine for 24 years." First black mark. I suspect Dominic may be a Republican.
He takes my hand. "Come on. I'll keep you safe. It's no bother to drop you home on my way."
I study him before getting into the cab. His five o'clock shadow has turned to midnight bristle. I wonder how it would feel against my skin. He seems a really nice, genuine guy, sexy, smart, sweet, a keeper maybe. I want to do this differently. If I'm gonna do this I want to take it slow.
Maybe I am a little drunk. On entering the taxi I stumble. Dominic catches me before I fall.
Be assertive but not pushy. During the ride home I take his phone and enter my number. "Busy tomorrow but if I move some stuff around I can be free Sunday."
He immediately calls me so I have his number too.
"Great," I reply, tucking my phone away.
He's sitting beside me, relaxed, cool and calm. To the contrary, my heart is racing. I move my bag off my lap and let my hand rest on my thigh, hoping he'll take it. I haven't felt this way since I was in high-school, making out in the back seat of Max Renwick's Pontiac,
After an uncomfortable silence he looks across to me. "You okay?"
I nod tentatively. "I'm fine."
"How do you feel?"
I shrug. "I dunno . . . a little juvenile, perhaps?"
"It's just here on the left – 1412," I announce.
The taxi pulls up outside my apartment building. I place my hand on the door lever but linger a moment. I want him to lean across and kiss me but instead I feel a rush of cold air followed by the sound of his door closing. Dominic's out of the vehicle and quickly round to my side to open the door for me. I accept his outstretched hand to help me out of the car. The rain has eased to a persistent drizzle but the wind has picket up. There's an awkward moment before I kiss his bristly cheek, tell him to call me, and start to walk away.
Dominic takes my hand and pulls me back, spins me round, and now we're close – face to face. He takes my jaw in his hand, and gives me a real kiss, a proper kiss – the one I wanted.
"Good night," I whisper, rummaging in my bag for my keys.
"No coffee, then?" he says.
"NO," I say, still rummage for keys. "Not tonight. I'm a little tired and a little drunk. Call me tomorrow."
Eventually I locate my elusive house keys, I look up and he's doing it again – the curled lip sulky face.
"C'est la vie," I tell him, pointing to the waiting cab.
"You never can tell," he retorts, shrugging his shoulders.
"Quit it with the sulky face. You played the sympathy card already – back when we were in the bar. You can't use it again. Go home," I order him.
He looks up to the heavens.
"But I'm getting very wet," he says.
Tell me about it. I insert my key into the door. "Me too."
"It's nice and warm in here, cosy even," remarks Dominic, removing his wet jacket.
"'Because she's left the heating on again – does she think we're made of money?" I take his jacket. I was right. The label says Armani. "Let me hang that up for you." For the first time I see him in his shirtsleeves. He works out, I can tell.
"Three sugars, please. Without cream," he says, easing himself into the armchair.
Second black mark. Personally, I find the whole 'sweet tooth' thing bizarre. "We're interns," I reply. "Our budget doesn't stretch to cream. You'll have to have it without milk."
"We're interns?" he repeats my words.
"I share this apartment with Cindy. She's not home. She spends most weekends at her boyfriend's."
"I see." He gently taps my butt, twice, before I walk away.
"Steady on," I tell him.
I return with his coffee and pass it to him. "Taste it and tell me if it's okay."
"I'm sure it'll be fine." Dominic ignores my instructions, sets the coffee on the side table, and pulls me onto his lap.
"NO. None of that," I tell him. "There'll be no fooling around. Not tonight."
But he pulls me in close and kisses me again, softly, gently.
I want to get away from him. I need to get away but he's keeping me on his lap, not by strength or force but with his kisses. I want more. Before I know it we're full on, making out, heavy petty call it what you will. Then blessed relief, a moment's respite. I'm saved by the proverbial bell.
Effortlessly, Dominic lifts me off his lap, carries me across the room, and sets me on the sofa. As he reaches into his jacket and retrieves his phone I am both worried and excited. Fairground fear, it makes me tingle. This man is so strong he could end me without breaking sweat but what girl in her right mind doesn't want a man equipped to keep her safe.
He curses under his breath and frowns after reading a text message.
"What was that all about?" I ask.
"Nothing for you to worry about," he replies, offering a weak, obviously forced smile.
"It's just work. Looks like a vote in the Senate isn't going to go our way."
"Are you sure that's all it is?"
"I'm sure," he replies, turning off his phone "Why are you questioning me? What is this – the Spanish Inquisition?"
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. I consider taking the opportunity to make light but think better. "I just thought –"
"It is what it is!" he snaps.
I was thinking this guy's kinda sweet but it appears he can be very, very salty – but, hey, we've all got our sore points, it's not a deal-breaker. I try to calm him by rubbing his back. "You're right. It's not my business. How about we just enjoy each other's company and not talk politics?"
"Damn straight," he says, leaping on me, throwing me back, laying me prostrate on the sofa.
"Slow down!" I fight. A combination of panic and ass preservation compels me to swivel around to face him. He leaps on top of me. His previously supple body is tense now. I still crave his lips . His hungry kisses easily penetrate all my defences but his kisses are more angry now, more intense. Who is this guy? It's like this man is really angry about something. "Hey, Tiger, slow down," I urge him. It's like he's got four , five, six hands. There's an unexpected twang. I feel my breasts freed by the undoing of my bra-strap. I'm disorientated, overwhelmed. His tongue is in my mouth. He has one hand on my neck, another caressing my face, another squeezing my breasts, and another trying to remove my panties. "NO," I tell him, but it's like he can't hear me. As I feel him enter me I try to push him off me but he is heavy and strong and I weight 120 pounds wet. I want to scream 'NO' at the top of my lungs but my addled mind begins analyse data and likely scenarios going forward. I'd said 'NO' to the drink in the bar, 'NO 'to the meal in the restaurant, 'NO 'to the to cab home , and NO to his coming up to my apartment for coffee.
My subconscious took over. It laughed at me. "How's you're little 'no' plan working out for you? Every time you said it you didn't mean it, and he knew it. You're just a tease."
"No. I'm not." Again, I was there with the 'no'. "It wasn't supposed be like this," I told my subconscious..
The last thing I remember before I passed out was an angry man on top of me – pumping hard, pumping furiously. hurting me.
I'm awake, now. It's light outside. I lay a while listening to the sound of the early morning traffic. I hurt. Everything's sore. Carpet burns on my back and shoulders. The pain I'm feeling is partially anaesthetised by realisation – I am still here, alive. I struggle to my feet. The beast that savaged me has long gone.
I'm in the shower. I've been here most of the morning trying to scrub every part of him and last night from my body. More than that I'm trying to remember; what happened? Why did it happen? Were there signs? Should I have seen them?
Cindy comes home after I call her. She takes me to the ER where I'm tested: HIV, hepatitis and more. The waiting is more pain. I'm overwhelmed with joy and relief when the doctor writes me a prescription and tells me I'm clear but I have to repeat the HIV test in three months. During the journey home I tell Cindy everything. She comforts me and tells me it wasn't my fault. We agree the bastard shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.
"We should call the police," Cindy says.
"What's the point?" I ask. "I've showered. I'm clean. There's no evidence anywhere."
"You don't know that," she objects. "We should call them anyway."
"NO," I tell her.
"How about you think on it while I run out to the store and get your prescription filled?"
Two law enforcement officers arrive early in the evening. The male officer hangs back remaining silent while the female detective questions me and takes my statement.
"My name's Detective Jansen," she starts. "I'm going to try to make this as painless as possible."
"I tell my story."
Sympathetic to my words, she nods and smiles, offers me pamphlets with information pertaining to support groups, counsellors, and therapists. Before leaving she returns to the subject of my drinking.
"Let's go through your alcohol consumption again."
"I had four glasses of wine in the bar."
"Large or small?"
"And in the restaurant?"
"Two, I guess. We shared a bottle. He was topping me up."
"So you may have had more than half the bottle?"
I shrug. "Possibly."
"Okay then." The detective stands.
"He raped her. Aren't you going to arrest him?" says Cindy.
"Sorry. I know it seems unfair but I don't think there's enough evidence to secure a rape conviction. Clearly an assault has taken place but, again, it's going to be 'he said, she said.'"
"So you're just going to let him get away with it?"
"We'll speak to him." Detective Jansen scribbles something in her notes. She hands me her card before leaving. "My cell number's on there. Call me any time. I'm so sorry this has happened to you."
"Me too," I reply.
Sunday. Cindy's not here. She sent me a series of supportive texts. I'm home alone because I insisted I wanted to be. Even though I was up early, I've been preoccupied all day, dwelling on my situation. For the record, I slept okay. I didn't have nightmares. A couple of Advil go some way to relieving my physical pain. I'm coming to terms with the gravity of what has transpired. I'm a private person, I don't want this to go to court and become a thing. There's no real upside. My friends will see me as a victim. Men will see me as damaged goods, or worse I'' be branded as one of DC's, gold-digging whores. And I'm going to work tomorrow, what if people at my job find out?
I lay back on my couch to take another run at recalling Friday's events. The phone call angered him, and he took his frustrations out on me. I recalled my own anger management issues. I understood how a person can cross the threshold. It was my anger at a man that had caused me to leave Poughkeepsie and move to DC. When I found out what he'd done I was overcome with uncontrollable rage. I took a baseball bat first to his car, then his beloved motorcycle, and finally to Brett himself.
By Sunday night I'm done deliberating. Dominic didn't hit me. He didn't threaten me. I'd given him the signal – every time I say NO it's okay for him to go right on ahead and bulldoze through my flimsy straw objections. I'll learn from this. I'll be better, stronger next time. So, I'm a little bashed-up and bruised. Some people like ruff sex – Cindy and her boyfriend had broken a bed once. At the end of the day what I experienced was just a bad date, a really horrific date. I want to put all of this behind me and move on with my life. I take Detective Jansen's card from the coffee table. Confident in my decision, I dial her number. "I want to forget this," I tell her. "It's not a big deal. I want to retract my statement."
"It's okay. We've got the bastard," she replies. "Dominic Hunter is in custody as we speak. He's been charged with your rape."
"Wow!" I'm shocked. "Did he confess?"
"No. But he did confirm the number of drinks you consumed."
"Sorry, but I just want to move on with my life. I want to drop the charges," I tell her. "It was just a bad date."
"It's not up to you," she replies. "The decision rests with the US Attorney for the District of Colombia, and she . . ."
I'm surprised by my rising anger. "No. It is up to me. I won't come to court," I tell her. "I don't want to. You won't have a case because you'll have no evidence."
"We already have the evidence," she replies. "According to you, the accused, and the taxi driver - you were inebriated, therefore unable to give consent. It's an open and shut case: Rape, second degree – Class A felony."
"Fuck you!" I say.
"Fuck all of you." I end the call.
I open a bottle of water. It takes me a few moments but I identify the origins of my hostility and anger. On Friday night that animal violated me, took my power, my dignity, my rights. What happened wasn't up to me. The situation got out of my control. I had no say. Detective Jansen was no better than him. She'd just done the very same thing, taken away my choice – commandeered my options.
The doctor said 'within the next 24 hours'. So I guess it's time for me to take my prescription. I screw the cap back onto the bottle. This is something I still have control over, a decision they haven't taken away yet. I still have my right to choose.