The ambient noise subsides. I raise my glass to lips and retreat into my own mind. When you're at a low, planning your own pity party, there's a point when you pause, dwell for a time, wondering how you got into this mess, which particular fork in life's road you took to end up in this mire. There's no going back in time, everybody knows that, a flux capacitor is not a real thing. Regardless, your mind travels back to the source, you retrace your path, identify the fork you took, and pinpoint exact moment where you zigged when maybe your life would have been so much better if you'd only zagged like your gut told you to.
I remember laughing at my own response to a straightforward, not unexpected, unambiguous question. I created a segue where one should not exist. Realising what I'd said I set down my glass before taking a sip. I think I'm going to go ahead and blame Freud.
Violet's innocent question: "It's the end of the month. Do you fancy hitting the town later?"
My semi-absent response: "Phh! I ain't been hitting much of anything lately."
"It's just been a bit quiet on that front. You know, I'm just going through a lean spell."
Violet is as sharp as a tack, and like a dog with a Frisbee once she's got teeth into it, she ain't never putting it down. "Exactly how long is a spell?" she asks, brows raised in expectation.
"You know . . . a while."
"Hmm." Dissatisfied Violet's brows remain raised. "Are we talking lean as in lent lean, or are we talking about lean like the seven lean years?"
"Oh my God! You're like one of those culty God people. Why are your frames of reference always biblical?"
"Nothing wrong with keeping the faith . . . To your point; I'm not the one having problems getting laid. I am reaping the full rewards of God's bounty – on a regular basis. Maybe he's punishing you."
Maybe she has a point? "Remind me how long lent is?"
I sigh. "It's been way longer than that."
"Girlfriend, how much longer is way longer?"
"A long, long time. Trust me, you don't want to know."
She gives me one of those looks that only black women know how to do. "How long is long?"
I look away. "So long I've been thinking about baking a cake for the anniversary."
Anyway, that's the source – how it started.
Friday night. It's raining in DC – again. I'm in the King's Bar with one of my girlfriends after work. We've been here a hundred times, our regular Friday night warm down after another eventful week on the Hill, a place not without sin, corruption, secrets, and scandal. There's usually three of us but 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, a regular boy-scout. 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 skirt-suits and using lipstick. Apart from Jasmine, Jasmine always wears pants.
"Let's do a couple shots," says Violet.
"Hell NO!" I vigorously shake my head. "Do you remember what happened last time we did shots?
Violet purses her lips as she tries to recall. "No –"
"Exactly! It did not end well, trust me."
"Just one," she urges. "You know you want to."
"Vi, you believe in a higher power, right, signs from God?"
"You know I do."
I point a finger to the cocktail list on the chalk board. "Fourth one down – that's definitely a sign!"
She reads then laughs. "Slippery Slope . . . yeah, I hear you. I think I remember the last time we did shots. Was that the time I –"
"Best hold the shots."
If Jasmine was here she'd get us all wasted. We love Jazz even if she does bat for the other side. We've been encouraging her to cross the aisle. She's not a big fan of the dumb stick, and a Republican lesbian isn't really a thing. She'll come over to our side eventually. It's just a matter of time. She'll have no choice if she gets outed.
Vi and I are looking forward to the weekend, pencilling-in plans. In our line of work personal plans are always fluid. Hopefully we'll get a drama-free couple of days, our phones won't ring. We're both watching the weather girl on the TV screens: according to the forecast there's a 70% 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 appears thoughtful as she sips her wine. "Do you ever go back home? You know . . . to visit."
I haven't thought of home for a while. I left under a very dark cloud. Everybody back there thinks I'm some kind of psycho. "After the way I left?"
"I'm sure that all that shit blew over years ago."
I wish. Changing the subject, I focus my attention on the raindrops peppering 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."
"In your abstinence, is good book code for day-drinking and watching porn?"
"If it's at the weekend it doesn't count as day-drinking. Besides, I'm a healthy single woman." I giggle a little. "Piggly Wiggly time is all the happiness I get."
"Piggly Wiggly time? I've never heard it called that. Is that a New York thing or is it what the kids are calling it now?"
"Maybe it's a local expression but that's what I've always called it, way back from the time I was just a girl."
"Fun fact: The Piggly Wiggly Corporation is credited with inventing the concept of self-service."
"Back in the day, shoppers would give a list of provisions to the store clerk, and the clerk would, you know, fulfil the shopper's needs. But the Piggly Wiggly Corporation decided that customers should browse, and help themselves."
"God bless Piggly Wiggly."
"Amen to that," I agree.
"Naughty, dirty 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."
"She's not 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, at least, and it's not like he's going to change his beliefs anytime soon. And, no, we're not going to have another long-assed conversation about a woman's right to choose."
I raise my glass. "I'll drink to that."
"Me too," she replies.
"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 –"
"No more shop talk," I insist. "Why don't we talk about something more philosophical?"
She laughs before raising her glass to her lips. "Like what? You wanna go deep, deep . . . like, the meaning of life?"
"Please!" I study my near empty glass. "There is no real meaning to life. According to your good book we're so supposed to go forth and multiply."
Violet's ill-timed outburst of laughter causes her to choke on her wine.
I reach across and pat her back. "Why was that funny?"
"You know that go forth and multiply literally means fuck off, right?" she splutters.
"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.
"Sorry, gotta go. Duty calls," my girlfriend announces after taking 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 says 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 am sitting alone in a bar full of people and I'm thinking . . . I feel lonely. I feel this way because it's so hard doing what we do. We're three women in our prime who, like Stepford Wives, do everything in service of our men, not the sex or the cooking but pretty much everything else. But when you are that dedicated to one person it's almost impossible to maintain a relationship with another. In college, the third date was known as the sex date. In this job, the third date is the vetting date. I'm required to submit the details of any prospective partner to my people who investigate every aspect of their lives. In the modern era, who can really stand up to intense scrutiny of a political background check. It would nice to have a person but in this job it's just not practical.
I scan the patrons of the bar, every one with a smartphone within reach. I turn my attention to the CCTV cameras. I can see at leave four from where I sit. Video may well have killed the radio star but it also unwittingly dismembered future generations of aspiring politicians and their families. Half the people on the planet have been captured on film doing something dumb or have expressed a regrettable opinion on-line. Once it's out there – you can't take it back. I glance up at a camera and I wave. If I ever make it to congress there's going to be CCTV footage of me sitting at a bar – drinking alone.
Maybe this was the fork in the road, the point where I zigged when I should have zagged?
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, thank you. 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 little tactic 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. "What is it with you people? Why can't you take no for an 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.
"Australian. Cool. Bartender." He smiles before ordering a bottle of Budweiser and a glass of Jacob's Creek.
"Did you not hear the part where I said NO?"
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. So far he's passing the smell test.
"NO," I tell him. "You've wasted your money. Whatever ideas are in that head of yours – it's not happening."
His laugh is kind of infectious. 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 a newly opened bottle. I find myself raising it to my lips. "One drink," I tell him. "Then I'm outta here."
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.
"Hungry?" He catches me perusing the menu, considering ordering a bar snack.
"I'm hungry too," he says. "But burgers, deep-fried spicy chicken wings, pigs-in-a-blanket, none of this stuff does it for me. I need proper sustenance. I don't do fast-food."
I lick my lips. "Good to know."
"Say, I'm not too familiar with this particular 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."
"I asked for that. It was probably the dumbest question in the history of dumb questions."
"Yup." I offer him a theatrical yawn. "Really, really dumb."
"Whatever, so – sue me."
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."
"What do you mean?"
"We won't be hooking up. I'm not one of those girls . . . I won't be going back to your place and spreading my legs for you – that's what I'm saying."
"Thank God . . ." he says, raising his bottle to his lips.
"The thought of you spreading your legs took me back to my OBGYN rotation at med school, which I totally flunked by-the-way, brought back terrible images." He shudders. "When you've been, you know, all up inside there from a medical point view . . . it kind of affects you."
"You went to med school?"
"Yeah, I was there long enough to discover medicine was not my calling." He pauses to study me before extending a hand and posing a question: "You know I went to med school. I know nothing about you. Let's start from the beginning. Do you have a name?"
I deliver a harsh frown, slide of my stool, and throw my bag over my shoulder. "Doesn't everybody?"
It should have ended there – the perfect exit. I was in control, doing fine, zig, zig, zigging . Everything was handled . . . but then I may have zagged. I reach out and stroke his cheek. "Another time maybe?" Why did I do that?
I've probably put a nail in my political coffin – the CCTV cameras record me leaving a bar with a random guy, and we're walking. During the passive-aggressive, cat and mouse banter I discover he has a name - Dominic Hunter. I swear to God, I don't know how it happened but we're suddenly outside a restaurant. Dominic opens the door for me. I enter and I'm immediately in total awe . . . this is the best place – ever! 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 – Damn! This more than I earn in a week. Jeez. I can't afford this. I'll go hungry for an entire month 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 deck of credit cards. "I said this is my treat."
In hindsight, tt really should have ended there – but I think I definitely zigged where I should have zagged.
Anyway, better move on . . .
We wait on the street outside the restaurant. The rain has relented. Dominic asserts, he hails a cab. "After you, beautiful," he says, opening the door for me.
"Let's get this straight and on the record. I'm not going home with you," I say, slamming the cab door closed.
"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?"
"Don't sweat it. I've managed fine for 24 years. And just because I work for a Democrat don't be so foolish as to assume that I don't possess a firearm." 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.
I'm aware that I just zigged when I should have zagged but that's what I did.
Anyway, better move on. . . .
I've never grown up. This is bad. I'm trembling I'm still a fucking teen. Be assertive but not pushy. During the ride home I take his phone. I just met you, but this is crazy. I type my digits into his phone.
"Thanks." He raises his brows. "I still don't have your name."
"My mother gave me my name – it's mine. If you're sensing a theme, here, it's that I don't give anything up easily."
"But I already told you my name."
"Yeah, you did, and I Googled you already – no scandals that will stick." I force a smile. Call me maybe?
"Don't believe a word, that sheep was sick, it was going to die anyway."
"You are one disturbed individual." I remark. "It's all good. Look, I'm busy tomorrow but if I move some stuff around I can be free Sunday."
"Sure. Great." He saves my number under 'DB' and immediately calls me so I have his number too.
"Awesome," I reply, tucking my phone away.
Our conversation's petered out. My head's pinning. 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 in his. 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?"
"I know the feeling."
"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, and it's a zinger.
"Good night," I whisper, rummaging in my bag for my keys.
"No coffee, then?" he says.
"NO," I say, still rummaging for my house 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."
Anyway, better move on . . .
"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. His forearms are muscular, smoother than my legs. An errant thought escapes my subconscious: a hairy back would be a deal-breaker. "NO," I object.
"Nothing. Just thinking out loud . . . How to you take your coffee?"
"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. "Unfortunately our budget doesn't stretch to cream. You'll have to have it without milk."
"I share this apartment with Cindy. She works for the AG's office but she's not home right now. We're not exactly interns but if you ever set eyes on any of our pay-checks – we may as well be interns. Cindy spends most weekends at her boyfriend's. She won't be home 'til Monday."
"I see." He gently taps my butt, twice, before I walk away.
"I'll make you your coffee," I tell him. "Is instant okay for you?"
He smiles cheekily. "I'm all about instant. Instant is my jam."
I roll my eyes. "One cup of instant coming up. But then you really have to go. There's no punani on the menu, not tonight. This punani's not instant. It's a special order – you have to wait for it."
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."
He ignores me, pulling me in close and kissing me again and again, softly, gently.
I know I should get away from him to preserve some semblance of virtue and intrigue. 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 petting, call it what you will. Then, divine intervention, blessed relief, a moment's respite to regroup. I'm saved by the proverbial bell. "Is that your phone?"
It's all become surreal, effortlessly, in slow-motion, 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. It's a fairground fear, making me tingle with excitement. 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.
Dominic 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 but obviously forced smile.
"I needed a win. But there's nothing I can do about this right now, DB. 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, returning the phone to his jacket pocket. "Why are you questioning me? What is this – the Spanish Inquisition?"
I can't help it but a smile is born. 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?"
He takes a deep breath through his nose before kneeling by the sofa and taking my hands in his. "Yes, how about we do just that, Miss DB."
"I don't know your given name so Dirty Blonde, yeah, that will have to do – for now. Maybe I'll get a name later?"
I'm angered. "Mr! You don't know me. You've no right to disparage me like that. Get out!"
He laughs at me. "My mom was a hairdresser: I know the difference between; blonde, silver blonde, strawberry blonde, copper blonde, and belle blonde. You, my sweet, are definitely leaning toward dirty – although originally you're most likely somewhere between auburn and mousy-brown."
"Karen," I tell him. "My name's Karen."
"Good to know."
I'm embarrassed. We're in that moment, the one where I justify my next actions to the rational, sensible side of my soul: it just happened, I don't usually. I look into his dark brown eyes, and right there . . . You can stick a fork in me – I'm done. He's got me in the mood for love. I'm thinking I want to turn out the lights, maybe light a candle.
He holds my gaze.
I lick my lips and part them slightly in anticipation of his next soft, sweet kiss.
He hesitates, making me wait.
"Listen up," I insist, embracing him. "One thing you need to understand, homeboy: this is not a game to me. I'm not a toy. I'm not a DC plaything."
He smiles a crooked smile. "Did you just call me 'Homeboy?"
When the kiss comes it's neither sweet nor soft – it is brutal. "Do you want to, maybe –," I start. The man he has become doesn't wait to hear the rest of my sentence, "go easy."
"Damn straight," he says, leaping on me, throwing me back, laying me prostrate on the sofa.
WTF? "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'm ashamed to say 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. You're hurting me." I urge him. It's like he's got four, five, six hands. There's an unexpected twang, my breasts suddenly freed by the undoing of my bra-strap. In the onslaught I become 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 weigh around 110 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 but in the hazy, dim drunken light, I can my ankles locked around his waist, pulling him in, preventing his retreat.
The last thing I remember before I passed out was an angry man on top of me – pumping hard, pumping furiously. He's hurting me.
I don't want to share the micro-details. Better move on . . .
It's the morning after. I'm wide awake. 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 the realisation – I am still here, and alive. I struggle to my feet. The beast that savaged me has long gone. I extricate myself from beneath the duvet covering my naked body. I'm confused – he did this. He took the time to go into my room, retrieve the duvet from my bed, and cover me. Why? It doesn't make any sense.
The warmth of shower water soothes my aching muscle but stings my abrasions. I've been in 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 all showered and clean. There'll be no shred of evidence anywhere."
"You don't know that," she objects. "We should call them anyway."
"NO," I tell her.
"You forget I work in the AG's office – I know people. Trust me. This motherfucking asshole will rue the day he darkened your path. He's going down."
"Which part of NO do you not understand?" I snap. "Please, for the love of Christ, will you just back the fuck off!"
"How about you rest up, think on it while I run out to the store and get your prescription filled?"
While Cindy is in store I wait, a million dark thoughts race through my mind, thoughts of vengeance and murder, thoughts I shouldn't share. Better move on . . .
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 the detective 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. "We're about done here."
"But he raped her! Aren't you going to arrest him?" screams Cindy.
"Calm down, ma'am. 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.
Cindy's fussing, trying her best to console and comfort me.
I raise a smile as she places a tray on the table. "Really?"
As if chicken soup can resolve all my problems? I know where her heart is, and I know she's trying to help but what can anybody really do or say in situations like this. "You should go," I tell her.
"Go where? I live here."
"Go back to Craig's. I'll see you tomorrow night."
"I don't think you should be alone."
"I won't be alone," I say, glancing at the steam rising from the bowl. "I have chicken soup . . . I'll be fine. I'm not suicidal or anything. I promise."
She hugs me.
During her extended, tight hug - I'm thinking. As she pulls away I take her arm and make eye contact. "This is my business, my story to tell, or not," I insist. "Do not under any circumstances tell Violet or Jazz. Don't tell anybody."
She raises her free hand. "I Promise."
Sunday morning, Cindy's sent me a series of supportive texts. 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'll be slut-shamed, branded as one of DC's, gold-digging whores. And I'm going into 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. It happened. I'm over it. No charges were filed, and it's okay for me to reflect, feel a little shame from time to time. To periodically reflect and learn from that event, it makes me a better person. Even though I'm a lifelong democrat, the thought of my man carrying on with another man behind my back is beyond wrong – it's an abomination.
By Sunday night I'm done deliberating. Dominic didn't hit me. He didn't threaten me. I'd given him a clear 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. I afford myself a smile: Cindy and her boyfriend broke her bed last summer. 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 was feeling sorry myself like I was all of a sudden part of the #metoo sisterhood, but I'm not – I brought this on myself. They say that 93% of human communication is non-verbal. Sure, 7% of me told him no but what the hell was the rest of me telling him?
I take Detective Jansen's card from the coffee table. Confident in my decision, I dial her number. "I've been thinking. I want to forget this," I tell her. "It's not such a big deal. I think I want to retract my statement."
"Don't worry. We've got the bastard," she replies with glee. "Dominic Hunter is in custody as we speak. He's been charged with your rape."
"Wow!" I'm shocked. "Did he confess?"
"No not exactly. But he did confirm the number of drinks you consumed."
"What? How does that help?"
"It means –"
"Sorry, detective, but I just want to forget about it and 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, or me," she replies. "As a staunch advocate for women's rights, ultimately the decision rests with the US Attorney for the District of Colombia, and she campaigned on justice for victims of sexual abuse – that is her agenda."
"I don't give a flying fuck about her agenda. I'm not a victim! Stop saying I'm a victim!" I scream. Surprised by the venom in my own rage, I take a moment to dial it back, compose myself before continuing in a calmer but still determined fashion. "Listen. . . 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 all evidence we need," she replies. "According to your statement, and that of the taxi driver - you were clearly inebriated before the alleged assault, therefore you were unable to provide lawful consent."
"The law is clear, you were the victim of a crime."
"Sorry, but it's an open and shut case: Rape, second degree – Class A felony."
"Fuck you!" I say.
"Ma'am? This is good news."
"Fuck all of you. I am not a victim." I abruptly end the call.
Detective Jansen tries to call me back but I recognise the number and I choose ignore her. I can think of nothing she can say that I want to hear.
My phone's been blowing up for the last hour or more – she keeps calling. I'm standing here shaking, I don't know for how long. "I can't deal with this." Fuck off. I switch off my phone and cross to the kitchen to the place I find solace during times of distress – the refrigerator.
Comforting eating has never been my thing but swing the door open because I like to look at the food and revisit the tastes – comfort eating without the calories. I let the cool breeze wash over my face as I study the contents of the shelves. Eventually I do what I always do, select a bottle of spring water.
It takes me a few moments but I identify the origins of my hostility and anger. On Friday night that animal, that wolf dressed as a sheep, he 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 Mr Armani. She'd just done the very same thing, taken away my choice – commandeered my options.
There's nobody here but me. I'm relieved to be able to briefly dispense with the long-held façade of strength and courage. I'm just a girl with serious problems that doesn't know what to do. I return to the couch to wallow and cry but my eyes are drawn to the bottle of Jack Daniels on the shelf across the room, a shot or two would calm me. I could take the time to re-focus, re-centre, and rebalance – gain some perspective. But the doctor's words ring loud in my head: "You must take this within the next 24 hours. You don't have a choice."
I check the time on my phone. No alcohol for me.
I guess it's time for me to take my prescription. The white pill is single and lonely, just like me. It is the antidote to the symptoms of my affliction. I set the bottle cap down on the table as I pause for further thought. This experience has no doubt damaged me but damage can be fixed. Time will tell, but I fear that I may be beyond damaged. I may be broken. Broken cannot be fixed, not really. What is broken can never be the same again. I may lack the ability or will to thrive. From breakage there can only be salvage from the wreckage. This is the one thing I still have control over, a decision they haven't taken away yet. I am still strong. I still have my power. I still have my right to choose.
I absently place a hand on my gut. Zig or zag?