‘A few rules to lay down, first, okay?’
Vixen ignored the man’s melodramatic groan, and stepped away from him. She wasn’t going to be deterred by his impatience. It was important to set the correct tone at the beginning, and to ensure that the customer understood what was expected of him if he was to avail himself of her services. I am in control, Vixen reminded herself, and I will maintain control. She had used this same spiel every time she had followed a man into this room. Despite the occasional temptation to abandon the procedure in the face of actual physical attraction, Vixen had consistently laid down the ground rules for these engagements.
‘I don’t like to be disrespected. If you swear at me or insult me, it’s all over. Understand?’
The customer’s impatience had evaporated as quickly as sun shower raindrops on hot concrete. He nodded whilst maintaining eye contact with Vixen. His eyes were dark, like his hair. Resigned obedience resonated in his tone when he spoke, ‘Yes, mam.’ If the smile that followed was intended to disarm her, it worked. Vixen returned the smile and temporarily forgot what she was doing. His charm was weakening her resolve, eroding her control. Quickly she summoned her reserve power, the override which was necessary to sustain professionalism.
‘Secondly, I don’t like rough play. I’m not into pain. If you hit me, push me, or even squeeze me too hard, I’ll give you a warning. If you do it again…’
‘It’s all over,’ he said, as he edged along the bed from where he was sitting toward where Vixen was standing. Although dressed for business in black lingerie, Vixen was unprepared for the intoxicating effect of his magnetism. She allowed her eyes to explore his body. It was the body of a late thirties, early forties guy who was making concerted efforts to fight the impact of time. His skin was a little loose in places: under his chin and over his pectorals. The onset of middle aged paunch was manifest but Vixen had seen a lot of worse bodies on a lot younger men. He was undoubtedly someone who cared about his appearance, and his legs and arms displayed toning which could only have come from hard work in the gym.
While Vixen conducted her examination, the customer continued speaking and she noticed for the first time a slight accent. ‘I’ve never really understood that,‘ he said. ‘I’m not an animal and neither are you, so I don’t see why sex should be so animalistic.’
She realized that he had generously allowed her visual probing without showing the slightest sign of discomfort. Many of her clients were very awkward and uncomfortable during the introductions and explanations phase of their encounters.
‘Some people seem to confuse passion with violence.’
‘Or excuse violence as passion,’ he added, gently correcting her.
‘Finally,‘ said Vixen, wrestling control back again, though she was fighting herself now, her own burgeoning impatience. Arousal. Stupidly, she imagined herself falling in love with him, smitten, head over heels. She averted her eyes. Turned away from him, hoping her back would protect her. Shield her from the arrows. ‘Finally, I’m clean but I don’t know about you so, no condom, no…’ A gasp stole her final words. He had come up behind her and gently entwined his arms around her. One across her breasts, the other across her stomach. His grip was beautifully tight. When he breathed into her ear, she almost fainted.
‘I understand,‘ he whispered. Then he caressed Vixen into absolute submission.
Amy’s first trip to England didn’t go as planned. Not that she had a plan, but even her vague idea of what she wanted to do, and where she wanted to go, was insufficient nourishment for whatever hunger she was trying to suppress with this holiday. Was it wanderlust or pure discontent? Was it fear or boredom? What had driven her from security and familiarity into the clutches of chaotic uncertainty? Was it a vacation or an escape? Was she fleeing persistent vestiges of him? She didn’t want to say his name, or even think it but she had not been able to shake the memory of him, his quiet and confident masculinity. She was drowning in a sea of nostalgia, floundering in a desert, arid and desolate. Amy had lost herself in his arms, and though he had long since departed, a significant part of her remained missing.
Heathrow Airport exacerbated her sense of lostness. On arrival, exhausted and disoriented by lack of sleep during the ridiculously lengthy journey, Amy was overwhelmed by the enormity of one of the world’s largest airports. Both the size and scale of it, and of what lay before her was dizzying. Delays en route seemed to have been arranged conspiratorially. It began at Brisbane with a late departure due to inclement weather. Then, a mechanical problem with the Airbus 380 was investigated during an extended layover in Hong Kong, and resulted in a long wait for the passengers travelling on to London. Amy had passed the time with window shopping and cigarettes which she enjoyed in tiny glass cages labeled Smoking Lounges. Finally, somewhere in English airspace over London, the captain of the Airbus had politely informed them that due to unusual air traffic they would have to circle Heathrow until they were cleared to land. Amy had regretted her decision to make this trip twenty nine times already.
‘May I help you miss?’
As an interruption to her misery, the question was most welcome. Amy shook her head and then realized that she actually did require assistance. ‘Sorry. Yes. I don’t know where to go.’
The kind voice emanating from a face adorned with sympathy answered, ‘If you follow this crowd, Miss, they’ll lead you to baggage where you can collect your luggage. Do you have luggage to collect?’
Amy smiled and hurriedly rejoined the flock as it proceeded along the corridor. She desperately wanted a cigarette, and she wouldn’t mind some sex either. Amy was not used to going more than a couple of hours without the former, or more than a day without the latter. First things first, Amy told herself. Get my bags and get out of here. Get to my hotel. Don’t catch a taxi, too expensive. She used the shuffling time to try to recall all the words of advice she had received from friends and family back home in Coolangatta. All those experienced travelers who had showered her with the combined wisdom of years of living, working and travelling in foreign lands. She could have compiled a book based on what they had done and seen and learned. Such a book would have been handy right then, as she couldn’t remember anything save the warning about the cost of London taxis. Between 50 and 80 pounds to Central London. Ouch. Better to shell out a mere five pounds to ride the Piccadilly line into town. That’s what they said anyway, but Amy wasn’t on a budget holiday. Stuff the cost! There was no need to scrimp. She’d worked hard for a couple of years without a break and had managed to save most of her earnings courtesy of her parent’s magnanimity in allowing her to stay at home while she furthered her studies. Their reluctance to involve themselves in her personal affairs without a clear invitation had also worked in her favour. Loving her job and the money and freedom it afforded her meant that Amy would drag out her degree for as long as possible.
Terminal 3. Twenty nine hours after she left Brisbane. Amy stood at the luggage carousel watching bags and suitcases of all shapes and sizes cruising leisurely around the circuit until grabbed by their owners. She watched a few people struggle with massive trunks, while others liberated their bags as easily as scratching their noses. Airport staff were on hand to provide assistance as required. The proud resisted as is their bent, while the humble made gestures of gratitude, and Amy kept waiting. Where was her suitcase? One simple red medium sized suitcase: built by Antler, packed by Amy’s mother.
The crowd at the baggage carousel thinned out like people at the beach as the sun went down and the chilly southerly wind began to kick sand in their faces. Amy loved Coolangatta Beach but preferred it without the masses of humanity spoiling the serenity with their noise and pungent presence. Early mornings were the only time to seize an adequate portion of sand and surf, but unfortunately she was usually asleep. Working nights had its down side, no question. During her reminiscing, travelers kept leaving the baggage claim area. The steady reduction in human density was disconcerting. Where the hell was her suitcase?
‘I think we struck out,’ said an American standing beside her. ‘I don’t see any more bags, and I haven’t got mine yet.’
Amy ignored him and stared at the flap in the wall from where the seemingly endless procession of luggage had erupted and flowed, and then abated and now apparently ceased. She was in the process of regretting this trip for the thirtieth time, when the American suggested they head over to the help desk. Showing wonderful, even if slightly bombastic leadership, the man gathered the remnants of baggage seekers and mustered them together for an assault on customer service.
She glanced over to the help desk and saw a small queue formed at each of four counter niches. While the self appointed leader of the pack ordered the group to divide themselves up and choose a line to join, Amy studied the man serving at counter four. Although she’d only spent three hours with him, she instantly recognized him and quickly joined the queue for counter four, dismissing some mumbled protests as she did so. Her heart was pounding. Her mouth was dry. Impossible as it seemed, fate had brought them together again. She felt flushed and breathless as she brought to mind an image of that first embrace, and the very unprofessional kiss that followed. Then she knew that it was him. He was the reason she had travelled to the other side of the world.
Fighting the impulse to fling all the people in front of her, out of the way, to get to him, Amy inched forward. She tried to catch his eye but he was engrossed. Would he remember her? A puff of arrogance answered the unspoken question. Of course he would. How could he have forgotten her? Still, so much time had passed and…
‘How may I help you?’
Amy had reached the front of the line without noticing the passing of time or her progress. When he looked up at her, presumably wondering why she hadn’t answered, their eyes met, and a spark of recognition electrocuted her doubts, and rekindled the smoldering embers of her desire.
‘Hi’, he breathed.
A light snow was falling as Charlie Tate left the cafe and made his way down Madison Street. He checked his watch and quickened his pace. The ground resisted his attempted acceleration with reduced traction, and he cursed as he lost his footing and fell: scrambling and scraping. Embarrassing.
‘Are you okay there?’ a friendly voice enquired.
‘Sure,’ said Charlie. ‘I was just trying to go faster than my legs would carry me.’
‘Take it easy then. The ground is slippery and there’s no fire is there?’
Charlie smiled and thanked the man while inwardly deriding his irritating good humour and unsolicited advice. Truth be told, there was a fire. In his heart. Charlie groaned inwardly. He was thinking in clichés, and that could mean only one thing: he was in love. Amy’s flight was due in at eleven fourteen, and he needed to get a wriggle on if he was going to make it. A friend of his had infamously arrived late to pick up his new wife from the airport. Married in Bangkok then forced to wait three months while her application for residency was processed, she had marched through the terminal and exited into the arrivals area, searching for her husband; the only face in the crowd she would know. The only face in the whole country she would know. He found her in tears. Not a great start to their married life.
Amy and Charlie weren’t married. Not yet anyway. In the history of whirlwind romances, there had never been a more tempestuous and volcanically passionate love affair than theirs. Charlie still didn’t understand how it had happened. He had been holidaying in Australia, on the Gold Coast with a couple of friends. One of them suggested they visit Coolangatta’s most famous gentlemen’s club, Le Penthouse Grand. Charlie had reckoned the idea of going there, questionable at best, and insane at worst but he had gone along anyway. Even the name was stupid. It had been his first time. Vixen had made sure it had not been his last. He had loved her when she first presented herself to him in the lounge at Le Grand Penthouse. There were other ladies available of course, but not for Charlie.
He had never expected to see her again when he returned to England. His pitiful pining was ridiculed by his mates who told him to enjoy the memories but get on with his life. The job at Heathrow had been comforting, pacifying in its monotony, and gradually she faded from his mental library. Then she was there, back in his life, standing in front of him at the customer service desk, and boom, bang, bing, three days later she was gone again. Moving on to more European adventures. He had wanted her to stay. Very nearly fell to his knees and pleaded with her not to go. His heart lacerated at the thought of losing her once more. But he held his tongue and she left, giving him nothing but a kiss and her mobile phone number. Amy had taken his number, as well as more of his heart than he could survive without.
Wanting to place as much distance as possible between himself and Amy, or even memories of her, Charlie sought a transfer. Although originally moving to Los Angeles airport, a position had subsequently opened up at Denver International, and he found the suggestion magically appealing. He was renting a small apartment in the city but had booked a room at the Hyatt Regency for three nights in the hope that Amy appreciated opulence, and would find the ambience of both the city and his presence, relaxing and romantic. Denver offered plenty for tourists, more than three days worth but perhaps they wouldn’t always be out and about. Maybe they wouldn’t leave the hotel at all. Perhaps she would prefer to stay in. The spacious and luxurious room offered a king sized bed and spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains. Throw in a mini bar, TV, room service and double spa, and there were plenty of reasons for them to stay in. Whatever they did, or didn’t do, Charlie wanted it to be special.
Charlie had barely unpacked his bags on arrival in Denver when Amy had called from her home on the Gold Coast to say that she had been thinking about him, and was considering a visit. As Charlie unlocked his car, climbed in and started the engine, he recalled the exact words of the conversation.
‘Are you still in Los Angeles?’
‘I can’t stand not being with you. Are you busy?’
‘I’m just having breakfast.’
‘Oh yeah, it’s yesterday morning there. Would you like to meet me for lunch?’
‘More than anything.’
‘Are you hungry?’
‘The first available flight gets me there Sunday morning. Can you pick me up?’
‘Easily. With one arm. Just let me know when and I’ll be there.’
‘I want to be there now. With you.
‘I want to be with you all the time.’
Charlie might have been a fifteen year old in the throes of his first crush. All the gushing sentiment, the heart fluttering and palpitating, the dizziness. That conversation was so corny, he would have laughed at it had he heard it spoken by other people. Where did it come from? How had seven brief encounters led to an overwhelming feeling that he had to marry Amy and spend the rest of his life with her? It was madness. A prostitute? He’d never imagined paying for sex, let alone falling in love with a provider of adult services. Yet his feelings were undeniable, irresistible. Looking back, he had known this would happen when he first held her soft hand in his as she introduced herself as Vixen. The fuse had been lit during that initial introduction. Charlie had tried to stamp it out, to extinguish the subsequent blaze which burned in his heart but it was hopeless. He was in love.
What would these three days reveal about him, about her, about them? Charlie swallowed hard and wished he had a drink handy. There was so much against them: his friends and family, her past, the distance between them. Maybe Denver was going to be the place where the planets aligned, and if Amy fell victim to its charm, as he had done, who knew, maybe they could settle there. Could a woman of the night transform herself into a regular woman? A wife? A mother? The thought of settling down made him laugh, but God knew how he would have, at that point, sold his soul, to have this crazy dream. And she had promised him that her days of spreading her legs for strangers were over. Vixen was officially in retirement.
The short trip to the airport passed in an inebriated haze. He was drunk on the fantasy of happily ever after, and wondered whether his intoxication would register on a breath test if the police should pull him over. Could he walk in a straight line? Charlie was definitely having trouble thinking straight.
Sometimes when it’s quiet, I can remember what my life was like before moving to Cedar Springs. It’s not easy. It feels like someone else lived that life and I only saw it in a movie. The chasm between what is and what was, seems impossibly, implausibly wide. I’m not Amy Edwards anymore. I’m not Vixen. I’m Amy Tate. I’ve been her for three months now since our wedding in Denver which was so beautiful, I was almost constantly crying or fighting back tears of gratitude. I couldn’t, and I still can’t figure out what I ever did to deserve Charlie Tate. He is the man every girl dreams of. He’s the man I dreamed of, when I dared dream such adolescent fantasy. Charlie’s the one who makes all those women who don’t have him, sickly envious of the one who does. That’s me. I’m lucky but I feel wrong. I feel like a faker, a fraud. I told Charlie I would quit my job at Le Penthouse Grand when fate reunited us at Heathrow airport. It defied credulity that I would travel to the other side of the world and accidentally bump into the only man who ever touched me. I mean, hundreds of men have touched me, pawed me, mauled me, used their hands, their fingers, their mouths, their erect penises to pleasure themselves whilst pretending to care about me. My body was a toy, a tool but none of them ever reached inside and touched me. Charlie somehow crashed through my walls of seductive indifference and simulated gratification, and touched me.
I’m bored too, as well as guilt ridden. I have no job, nor any qualifications, nor any desire to pursue either. I had a job, and I was good at it. I don’t have money now, save what Charlie gives me and he’s generous of course. I have everything. Our home is Vogue magazine perfect. I have everything, and I have Charlie who loves me with a frightening fervor. I love him. How could I not love such a man, but something is missing. I don’t feel right. I’ve started drinking, and I spend part of each day playing stupid games, planning deceptions, imagining, fantasizing. Wishing I was still Vixen. Charlie is a wonderful lover: passionate and considerate but he’s just one man. I’m lonely, but not because I’m an Australian living in the United States, or because there aren’t any beautiful, caring people in my life. I’ve made friends, and I have been sincerely embraced as a member of the Cedar Springs community. In some ways, I have never felt so at home, but I still don’t feel right. Something’s definitely wrong with me.
Charlie wants to start a family. He’s always in a rush. I mean we hadn’t even spent four whole days together when he asked me to marry him. He knew what I did, if not yet exactly who I was, and it didn’t matter to him. He didn’t even ask me to quit. His grace, the way he accepted me and loved me, made me want to quit, so I did. I left my home voluntarily. He said he would live anywhere in the whole world if only he could live there with me. So I let him choose Cedar Springs in Michigan. I liked Denver but Cedar Springs is lovely too. Now he wants a baby. I don’t think I want to be a mother. In fact, I think I would suck as a mother, but Charlie has always been so undemanding of me that I feel obliged to carry, deliver and nurture a child for him. He’ll make a great dad. Considering all Charlie has done for me, and the beautiful man he is, I feel duty-bound to be imperturbably grateful and joyful. Why aren’t I?
It’s becoming clear to me now. I’m a glutton, my avarice is limitless so I’m going back to work. Only frequent sex with men I don’t know and don’t care about can fill the gaping hole that has been torn in me as a result of this foolish dalliance with normalcy. Vixen is going to have to make a comeback. I know this will require a seriously dangerous level of duplicity but I don’t think I have a choice. I’m going to lose my mind. If I’m very careful, if I’m discreet and clever about it, it might be okay. And if I destroy the wonderful life Charlie has given me, then I’ll merely be back to where I started, before he imprisoned me in his love. Anyway, Charlie will get over me. He deserves better. He deserves a better woman than me.
About the Author:
Heavy metal lover and cricket tragic, D.A. Cairns lives in Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, where he works as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had over 50 short stories published (but who’s counting right?) He blogs at Square pegs http://dacairns.blogspot.com.au and has authored five novels, Devolution, Loathe Your Neighbor, Ashmore Grief, A Muddy Red River and Love Sick Love which will be available in November, from Rogue Phoenix Press.