“I know who you are. I know what you do.”
Her eyes—hidden behind mirrored sunglasses—featured him prominently. He removed his hoping she would do the same. She did not.
He wanted to see those eyes.
An emotion tickled her lips taunting him. She sat there, saying nothing, staring at him. After a lengthy minute, she spoke.
“Catherine the Great told her advisers that she needed energetic young men in the imperial bed for the good of her health and was unable to rule Russia properly when sleeping alone. So, she had her ladies-in-waiting test them out for her. Each and every one. They were as keen to try them as she was. She wanted only the best in her bed.” Layne Gregory leaned forward pulling off her sunglasses, placing them on the table in front of her. “I liked to think she savored both, don’t you? All those lusty young men and hungry, willing ladies-in-waiting so eager to please.” She paused leaning back, settling comfortably in her chair. “Everyone goes through me before they see the queen.”
Brody felt as if he’d been punched. He took a breath—long, rough, unsettled—and smiled—a wide, hard smile that hurt his cheeks and imprinted onto his heart; an odd reaction for him; much too genuine and unexpected from what he intended. His intention had been the stern, broody agent-type trope he saw in the movies and shows that propagandized this kind of work. This wasn’t what happened. “I…I’m not interested in the…queen. Not like that. I’m interested in you.” He let her sit with that for a few before continuing. “How about we start out as friends first? And no, no one sent me.” He leaned forward. “You and Lucretia Summers. I’m interested…in learning more. I’m interested…in you.”
“Hmmmm.” She smiled.
It transformed her and seared him, and he took another breath, quick and shaky, concealing it under his hand with a cough.
Taking a long drink from the glass the departed waiter sat in front of him to distract from whatever it was he was feeling, he studied her face, those lips, her neck. Erotic thoughts played out while he attempted to concentrate on the conversation he planned that vacated his mind when she first spoke—all control lost when she showed him those eyes. He shifted in his chair when those erotic musings went deeper into a fantasy he wasn’t prepared for. Leaning back, smile gone, he cleared his throat but couldn’t wipe those images.
He didn’t plan for this. He didn’t think his body would react to her so profoundly. Disturbed by the feelings she elicited within him, he attempted to focus the discussion while she looked on patiently. “Is there a plan?”
She laughed—a modest but sincere laugh that unconsciously provoked yet another smile from him—some kind of empathic link between them. “You’re a fed,” she declared, possibly disillusioned—he couldn’t tell—stripping him of any pretense, not that he assumed any—at least not anymore.
Her phone vibrated alerting her to new communication. As she checked it, her smile widened. “Broderick Alistair Blake the third, eh?”
“Brody, please.” He looked out at the water. “Family name.” He felt her eyes wander over him provoking some conflicting emotions while the water generated more fantasies—sliding naked with her into a warm sea; their bodies slick and wet; a cool breeze and the faint rocking of the waves pulled at them—where she’d likely drown him, he added facetiously shaking his way out of that bizarre thought. His mind and body, rattled with sensation, betrayed him. Alas, more erotic thoughts. Now they were naked on a beach.
His frustration grew.
Regressed to adolescence in her presence, he tempered his disgust.
She confused this as something else.
“Your name is emotionally triggering? Why?” She watched him carefully.
“Then why did you correct me?”
“Because I prefer Brody.”
“Brody Blake. How…alliterative. What an interesting privileged life you’ve lived. Does daddy know you’re here?” A pause to assess. “No, daddy apparently doesn’t care,” she said answering her own question. Looking back down: “Awww, that deduction turned out to be true, but not quite total public knowledge, eh? Daddy knows though, doesn’t he? Daddy knows all.” She glanced at him again, then winked playfully.
His gut tightened, along with his balls. He made no move to answer. Eager to learn what she had on him, he sat there listening, waiting intently to hear what must have been an intricately more detailed in depth Brody Blake dossier, unlike those standard ones dolled out to the media and masses that his father’s high-priced public relations team consistently delivered.
She placed her phone aside: “I like people puzzles. These are shallow examinations at best. We are far more complex than a page of bullet points or an accumulation of images on a screen. Wouldn’t you agree, Brody Blake?”
Food delivered, they ate. Instead of ketchup, she dipped her fries in mayo while her green eyes lingered on him, drawing him in, baiting and peppering him with the rare question.
“What’s your favorite color?”
“Do you have a favorite book or movie?”
“What was the last show you watched?”
“The last book you read?”
“The Warmth of Other Suns.”
“Artist or astrophysicist.”
“Biggest pet peeves?”
“Intolerance, racism, misogyny, cruelty, greed, bullies.”
“What’s the best description of D.C. you’ve ever heard?”
“D.C. stands for Destruction and Chaos.”
“Best description of the U.S.?”
“You grew up in Westport, Connecticut. What did you like about it?”
“Being on the water.”
“Your father went to Yale yet you went to Berkley and Stanford, why?”
“I wanted to surf.”
“What do you think of the theory of American exceptionalism?”
Another deep sigh. It was a long, hefty shake before he answered: “Only that it’s been bastardized, commodified, and exploited by men in power over those without.”
“Your mother died when you were young. What do you miss about her?”
Head tilted, lips thinned—his face hardened. He said nothing.
Noting that she identified a locked door and one she was unlikely to enter—at least for now—her hesitation was brief before she continued onto the next question. “Your father’s your only remaining family. Are you close?”
Another shut door—and silence.
She moved on. “How do you unwind?”
His pause significant, as was the softening of his face transitioning to something more affectionate and warm—all very revealing. “Come visit me and I’ll show you.”
Brody had never been eye-fucked and interrogated over a cheeseburger and such simple questions before—intimations, clean and uncluttered that unnerved…and liberated him. He found that alarming and exciting. She was testing him—testing his boundaries.
The harder questions would follow later.
This was her interview, not his.
Besides those occasional questions, they ate in silence—relaxed and easy—long stares and listening to the hum of life lived around them before he offered unprompted minutes later: “I don’t like people,” he injected with more sincerity than he intended. The confession surprised him, as did the ease at which he professed it to her.
She paused midway from taking a big bite of burger, an eyebrow raised, as he attempted to clarify: “They’re work. I find them exhausting. They’re far easier to care for and deal with on the page or…from a distance.” Unlike her, he thought. He wanted that intimacy that she unintentionally provided him. She was effortless—painlessly complicated yet cryptic. Struggling to make sense of that contradiction—an aggregate of his life’s goals—this predilection towards contrariness usually led to exposing any sort of ambiguity that served to guide him towards more questions, or the same boring answers. Contradictions mattered to him and were far more fascinating. His blunt confession was evident of that.
How? Was he challenging her to keep him around for his honesty? Or was he simply trying to rationalize this unusual and uncomfortable attraction towards her that was without precedent? She invited something within him to escape; something subversive and powerful and he felt it pulling at him like a magnet—potent and insistent.
The comfortable silences between them relaxed him so completely, he almost trusted her—almost. That was the most disturbing thing of all. Trust didn’t come easily to him. Did it her? He doubted it.
Brody trusted rarely—never regularly. He can count on one hand the number of times he trusted—that he intuited a sureness in something beyond that which he could see and feel; an intimacy predisposed. This feeling was so singular, he wasn’t sure how to deal with it. His salad was easier to eat after that small revelation. Everything around him changed; tastes more pleasurable; scents more acute; colors more vivid. These feelings were real and she was the catalyst. The contradictions flustered and excited him. The unswept emotions released and delivered him directly to her.
What was wrong with him? He didn’t believe in love at first sight. He didn’t even know if he believed in romantic love. It was a ridiculous twisted fairy tale, incomplete or empty of the more macabre superlatives—the authentic fairy tales that he read, the ones with the shadows and the dark corners and edges; the perplexing and the ambiguous glorified not for their happily ever afters but for their more reliable narratives that uncovered character truisms that were nebulous of the mysteries within and around.
Those were far more amusing.
“Why are you here?” He asked her.
“Why are you?”
Her ability to turn a question on him wasn’t new. It was how she did it. That she even spoke at all. Her voice—like a siren—lured him in and made him vulnerable. He could feel himself opening up to her willingly yet unwillingly.
“You,” a breathless reply that he answered simply, softly.
A hard stare, she slammed the door shut without hesitation, closing off and retreating. He could see it, feel it; the energy stripped from the area around them; a vacuum.
So, she didn’t trust easily. He tried another tactic.
“Have you ever been to Guatemala? Tikal—an ancient Mayan city—and Ah Cacao—nicknamed Lord Chocolate to some—built these two grand temples deep in the Guatemalan jungle. If you’ve never read about the Mayan people, you really should. A fascinating study in resilience and culture. I went to the very top of the Temple of Ah Cacao before dawn and while I ate the most delicious empanadas I’ve ever eaten in my life, I watched the sun rise while the jungle came alive around me. It was at the autumn equinox before the 2012 phenomenon. I wanted to experience it before the so-called end of the world. It was…magnificent—beautiful.” He paused momentarily looking out over the water reminiscing on that weighty yet unfettered sensation and memory before continuing. “Anyway, the story goes that the grandest of all sun kings built the first temple for himself while he built the second, that sits directly opposite his, in honor of the love of his life, his wife, Lady Kalajuun Une’ Mo’ and that every spring and fall equinox—exactly at the equinox—the sun rises behind his temple, and completely eclipses her temple with his shadow and as the sun sets behind her temple in the afternoon, it completely eclipses his temple with her shadow. Some say that it’s as though their embrace is eternal—that their kisses connect in the sun. Me? I’d like to think it was more…interpersonally pragmatic than romantic. They realized that in the depth of their shadows was where they found each other and that’s what made their love enduring.”
“And created light where none existed? You don’t think that’s…romantic?” She asked softly.
His eyes met hers: “It could be.”
© 2020 Alex Shea/Pamela Gay Mullins