You're 40something, successful, on the fast track to the top, and you should know better.

He's 20something, dirty, desperate, and going down fast.

So why is he in your hotel room? Worse, why is he in your bed?

Because you paid him to be there, that's why.

Mirror

You sit up, your feet hitting the typical beige hotel carpeting with a sudden jolt amidst your discarded clothes and shoes. He rolls over, one arm across his eyes, mumbling.

Oh God, is it only two a.m.? you think as you careen towards the bathroom, hang for a second on the doorframe, and then plunge towards the toilet, heaving up everything in your empty stomach.

I never even went this far in College... oh God, here it comes again!

No, you were too busy trying to get ahead, to claw your way out of working class Minneapolis to indulge.

After that?

You spent an awful lot of time turning your back on your family, and toeing somebody else's line, only to have it all come crashing down two days ago when a doctor called you at your office and said…

"No!"

After a while you stand up on wobbly knees and lean over the sink in the half-darkness, lit only by the open window that overlooks downtown Seattle and the eternal rain that falls on it.

The woman who stares back at you in the gloom looks like death.

Flush

You started this binge yesterday by cashing in your 401K right after lunch.

Fuck the penalties!

After that you liquidated every stock and bond you'd carefully hoarded over the years.

Fuck those penalties, too!

Then you sold your house at a loss to a real estate dealer, leaving up it to him to dispose of your conservative but expensive furniture, only keeping the Boston fern that your grandmother gave you the year you graduated High School and a suitcase worth of clothes.

Everything else went into the dumpster:

Prada, Fendi, Wang and Choo –

Yahoo and whoopie fuckin' doo!

So did the jewelry, even the investment pieces - the carefully accumulated camouflage of two decades spent getting ahead –

Flushed!

Then you mailed in your resignation after twenty long years of patiently clawing your way to the top.

It's there now, in the mailroom full of clerks and postage machines, waiting patiently until Monday to be put on the President's desk, not that he'd notice.

Well, maybe he'd notice, but who the hell cares?

And the woman who looks like death grins back at you from the mirror just before you take another empty bow before your porcelain audience.

They'll get their money.

Now you're sitting on the loveseat in front of the television in your hotel room, a big hi-dev one, bigger than the one you bought last month and have now given up- you're staying in the suite you always stay in when on business trips for your firm. As far as they know, you're still with the firm.

They'll get their money.

Just as the stray tomcat on your rented bed will get his.

Maybe he has A.I.D.S.

Or herpes.

Or maybe hepatitis, possibly crabs.

A lot of them do.

Not that I'd know.

For years you'd passed them on the street in your airport limo, and then in your rented Saab, turning up your nose at the young men selling themselves to anybody for the price of a hit.

You've even watched your co-workers, men with wives and kids back in Minneapolis mingle with them ten floors below in the hotel bar where you once sat primly making notes for the next meeting while drinking Evian with a twist of organic lime.

You always looked away.

Even when all of you returned to the Minneapolis home office and sat around the boardroom conference table.

You always looked away, feeling superior.

Not any more – now it's your turn to have a 20something hustler in your hotel bed.

Imagine that.

You.

Of all people.

Who cares?

You arrived at the hotel out of habit, Boston fern and all. Without question, the desk clerk gave you and your fern one of the rooms your former as-of-Monday employer keeps reserved.

You never bothered to correct him.

Instead you took the elevator.

You walked down the hall with its ranks of identical doors, until your feet stopped in front of one of them, and your hand mechanically came out and slid the key card through the reader. The light went from red to green and then you walked in, door quietly closing behind you with a "click".

You put the fern on the dresser, walked over and opened the drapes for the first time ever and looked out over Seattle Bay and the mountains that cradled it.

Some view.

You'd stayed at this hotel for years; this was the first time you'd ever bothered.

Down below on the streets you watched the silent traffic in the rain-splashed streets come and go, so far up that all you could hear was the sigh of the air conditioner.

Big deal.

Mountains.

Big deal.

Trees.

Big deal.

Modern buildings.

So what?

And then you got back on the elevator, intending to get very, very drunk.

What the Hell!

You'd seen him on your last trip out here as he worked the hotel bar and thought, "No thanks!"

Still, you'd caught a flash of fierce intelligence behind the lenses of his old-fashioned gold-rimmed glasses, before it dulled behind the glass when Bob Turnbull, one of your co-workers, who had twins on the way, offered to buy him a drink.

You knew Bob's wife.

Michelle was nice enough, having given up a promising career in Marketing to become a stay-at-home mommy.

Did she know what Bob did when he was out of sight?

Or is that "who"?

Not that it was any of your business; if Michelle was stupid enough to give up a promising career in Marketing to marry Bob… well, she deserved it!

Ugh

Bob's former evening's entertainment mumbles louder before rolling over, reaching for his glasses and sitting up, putting them on before turning on the bedside lamp.

The sudden light shows you how thin he is.

Emaciated.

With needle tracks down the insides of both arms.

Something you hadn't noticed earlier.

Great.

Not that it matters.

Not now.

Not any more.

"Put it on my tab."

Your service provider stares at you while running a hand through the dark tangle of his hair without bothering to cover himself up.

Then he gives his head a shake before saying, "Best be going now pet. Got things to do." while reaching for his trousers.

Outside, lightning arcs silently across the late night sky.

Distracted, he pauses, watching the play of celestial electricity, black jeans loose in one hand. For some reason you say, "Wait until it stops raining."

"That'll cost you extra.

You turn off the television, not terribly interested in Sex in the City reruns.

"Put it on my tab."

He says halfway through pulling on a gaudy tank top, belly concave, ribs showing, "Fair enough."

"But first," You stand, tossing the remote to one side, "Take a shower. You stink."

Surprise!

When you were fourteen, cancer took your right ovary, and then your left; replacing them with a fast-growing tumor that pooched out your stomach like you were six months pregnant.

So while other girls spent their summers in the nearby park's swimming pool laying firm foundations for skin cancer, you spent yours in chemo after some surgeon dug the tumor out and stitched you up down there like a football.

The doctors told you that you were in remission on your seventeenth birthday.

When you were twenty-three, cancer gobbled up you left breast just as you were starting an MBA.

Working on your thesis in between bouts of nausea, your mother and sisters read your textbooks aloud to you as you lay there watching the ceiling spin, so that you wouldn't fall behind. Your father and brothers burned up all their sick leave and vacation time from their construction jobs taking you to an endless lineup of medical appointments, holding your hand as the doctors administered the radiation and the venomous drugs that went with it until they once more declared you to be in remission.

Your mortarboard hid your baldness the day you graduated with your entire family giving you a standing ovation from the sidelines.

After that, you wore a perky but professional blonde wig and a bra with a silicone insert to every job interview until somebody down in HR finally got it past their thick skulls that you weren't an insurance risk and hired you as your hair grew back in and the memories of the nauseous burning ice of chemo faded.

Not!

All right, so the memories still hang around like a bad smell, but a fat paycheck, followed by a fatter paycheck…

and a brand new Prada handbag with matching shoes really helps when you look in the mirror every morning as you get dressed and all you can see is what you're missing.

Anyway, it's what you wanted: successful people, rich people, have happy lives where somebody else does all the dirty stuff for you, and cancer…

Denial

... is something only losers get. You think to yourself as you hear the shower start in the next room.

Normal

Success aside, why was it that when you went in last week for "routine" tests you already knew what the answer would be before the results came back?

"The second time breast cancer shows up, it can be a little iffy," the oncologist said over your office phone, "But don't worry – starting treatment immediately will improve your odds. I'll have the paperwork messengered over to your office... And the good news is that treatments have changed since the last time you needed our help. We've got all sorts of new, improved Ms…"

New! Improved! New and improved… This isn't some new laundry detergent, this is my life you're talking about here, you son of a bitch!

You thanked him in your usual professional tone, screaming inside, "But I did everything right!" before telling him to go ahead and schedule you in for next Thursday while in the meantime your assistant would make all the necessary post-treatment arrangements, have a nice day.

You hung up the phone and spent the rest of the day sitting numbly at your desk while your personal assistant fussed around you, telling you about his latest boyfriend as he handed you contracts, which you signed without reading.

Dildo

After finishing your third gin and tonic down at the bar, you gave your rent-a-fuck an extra key card and yourself a half-hour lead.

By the time he opened the door, you were sitting on the edge of the double bed, shoes off, and halfway through your first piece of cheesecake in years.

Cherry, and full of carcinogenic red dyes.

No, it was strawberry.

Who cares? Room service brought it; I paid for it, end of story.

And you'd already forgotten what the Hell he was there for as he leaned against the open doorframe, arms folded, waiting for you to invite him in, to make the first move, impassive as a Ken doll, only dirtier.

Almost called security and had him thrown out.

In between bites of cheesecake washed down with gin and tonic, you remembered that you'd rented him for the evening, just like the room, so you used him.

A deal's a deal.

He went through his paces in a well-rehearsed routine, performing without engaging, like a dildo - which was exactly the way you wanted it.

Dirt

And now he's in your shower, washing off the fug of old sweat, stale fast food, and cigarettes that surrounds him like an invisible coat because you told him to.

Lightning flashes across the sky again - having him around is just what you need to wash down the contents of the Lunesta bottle nestled in the bottom of your handbag with a final gin and tonic.

Just lie back and let the Lunesta do what it does best. After all, cancer can't kill you if you're already dead, right?

Indifferent Pillow Talk

Lunesta untasted, you lie there in the dark, watching the echoes of sheet lightning play across the ceiling until he climbs back in, still damp.

After a while, you ask, "What's your name?" (Not that you really care, it's just something to fill the silence.)

"Does it matter?"

"No."

"Billy."

Finally you say, "Billy's a stupid name."

"Only one I got pet, says so on me driver's license."

"Oh." You listen to Billy's breathing deepen as he starts dozing off. Finally you ask, "Why?"

"Why what?" comes out of the darkness. His voice's a bit gravelly, with the touch of an accent that isn't American.

"Why do you do it?"

"Do what?" Irritation creeps into Billy's careful neutrality.

"What you do."

There's a long silence; then the bed shakes as he rolls over, turning his back to you.

"Because," You lie there expecting the usual misery of the week network television movie response, and you get it: "Seein' as I've always been love's bitch - I might as well get paid for it. So, why do you do what you do?"

Altitude Safety, Not!

Right. Why do I do what I do, or did what I did?

The room lights up in a stark black and white silent flash, leaving you there to contemplate the fast-fading black afterimages of the veins in your eyes while the clock beside the bed goes from 3:00 to 3:01 to 3:03, on up to 3:05.

"Because I thought that when you're on the top of the mountain, nothing can get you."

There's a tittering laugh in the dark beside you. "Guess again, pet, guess again."

"I saw the ads, the magazines, and the people who looked happy were the ones who had all the right stuff, the right job, the right car, the right house, the right life."

"So?"

"They didn't have to spend their summers in chemo."

"…"

"So I went out and bought me a good life - got rich, avoided red meat, white sugar, and artificial flavorings, drank only Evian water, ate soy, didn't smoke, didn't drink and stayed out of the sun - the cancer came back anyway." You say absently, your tongue seeking out the last of the cherry, or was it strawberry? cheesecake topping in the corners of your mouth.

"Lived the good life once, hated it." Billy says somewhere in the background around a freshly lit cigarette. "Had everything, nobody wanted me, so I died."

"I spent twenty years moving higher and higher up the ladder. The higher I went the safer I felt – rich people don't get cancer. Somebody else gets it for them."

"Wouldn't know, me mum was rich… I think. She died of T.B… no, wait, I think I killed her." Billy exhales.

"Rich people drive beautiful cars and take vacations at big resorts and don't have to worry about whose turn it is to take out the garbage or being able to pay that month's electric bill."

"Yeah, I think I killed her, but that was a long time ago, and I don't really remember any of it, so it doesn't matter."

"Rich people buy health."

"Found a new family. They only wanted me when it was convenient." Coughing, Billy stubs out the cigarette half-smoked.

"Rich people don't have to have their bodies cut open so some doctor can scoop out the rot. No, rich people go to clinics in Thailand and get nose jobs."

"Lost that family when some slag cut me head open with a hacksaw and put something in there that wasn't me. So I found another family; they hated me. Said I was a monster when I was only bein' me… I think… heroin helps."

Oddly reassured, you ramble on, "After rich people get nose jobs, (or boob jobs) they go skiing. The whole time, somebody else picks up after them."

"Tried to help, tried to be good, but they just wouldn't believe me. When I died nobody even soddin' noticed… I think. That was a long time ago and I don't remember, but maybe that's the heroin."

"Anyway, I bought it all: Rich people have easy lives and nothing bad ever happens to them. Rich people are safe."

"I tried to be part of another family but there was another one like me – he got there first so there wasn't any room for me."

"I wanted to be safe, so I got rich."

"Loved 'em all, even the ones that were bastards, loved him most of all… would'a done him for free… hell, I did, once. But I didn't understand the price…" his voice trails off into the darkness followed by a soft snore.

"Being rich didn't mean much after all: the cancer's caught up with me again."

"Again?" Billy rolls over slowly; you can tell that he's looking at you even in the dark.

"It started right here." You take one of his calloused hands and in the darkness you guide it down below your navel where even after spending thousands of dollars on erasing the scars that the doctors left behind, you can still feel them, "I was fourteen. They scooped me out like a melon."

"Some old hag once did that to me head." He guides one of your hands to the back of his head, but you can't feel anything among the damp curls. "Filled it up with sand or maybe it was broken glass."

You continue the tour, "It came back later when I wasn't looking and stole this." You slide his hand up your belly to the left side of your chest where another several thousand dollars had been spent replacing the irreplaceable, "After that I got a job and headed to the top where I thought I'd be safe."

Billy's hand guides your hand to his heart, "A goddess once tried to rip this out. Another one succeeded. Now it's beating again."

"And now," you guide his hand to your right breast, "It's come back to take what's left of me."

"Don't worry about dying. If you do, some inconsiderate bitch'll only come along and bring you back and then it all goes downhill from there." Billy murmurs in your ear even as he eases one hip between your thighs, then the other, distracting you.

His cheek is wet against yours.

Partial Refund

The Lunesta bottle's unopened and Billy's clothes are gone.

So is the money that you'd left out on the nightstand on his side of the bed.

Squinting, you stand and stretch, the light too bright for your hangover, but you don't care.

Not really.

The sun's out, Seattle looks like a post card, and the Boston fern needs watering.

My oncologist said that the prognosis was "iffy" but "iffy's better than "bad", right?

You haven't seen you family in years, too busy to even come for Christmas on their side of town, making up for it with it with gifts ordered unseen from Spiegel. Mom and dad, and even your sisters and brothers, have taken care of you before. Maybe if you apologize and mean it, they might, take you back in again, broken wings and all. It's worth a try, right?

Not like poor, crazy Billy. Sounds like he doesn't have anybody, if he ever did.

Maybe you should look him up, see if he's all right, see if he's got a place to go, but if he'd wanted that, he'd have stayed, right?

Looking out the window at Seattle Bay, you dig through your handbag, the cash you'd stuffed there the day before still there, pull out your cell phone, and after a long pause, you punch in a number, before saying, "Uh, hi… dad, daddy?... Remember me? Yes… yeah, it's Lizzie… sorry, but your little girl needs you again…"