Age of Edward Contest

Your penname: BelleDean

Title: Venus 1985

Type of Edward: 80s Edward

~o0o~

"Love is child's play once you've known obsession," a female voice from a commercial declares in an artificially low, raspy tone as I walk into the reception area of my practice on Rodeo Drive. It's nine-o-five, a glance at my Rolex confirms.

Same time, different day.

Jessica, clad in a red Lycra dress designed to show off her "best assets"—further enhanced at my hands—sits behind the white acrylic reception desk flashing a smile at no one, showing off her newly bleached teeth, while the soothing sound of water rushing down a waterfall trickles softly in from the Bose surround sound system installed in the waiting room, darkened by gray shades.

"Dr. Cullen." She nods in my direction.

"Good morning." I pick up my schedule, dropping the Hermes tan calf leather case my mother gave me on her desk.

"You're booked until twelve o'clock with consultations, followed by Miss Glassman's rhinoplasty at one, and two more consultations after that."

"Thank you." Before I can escape to my office, my partner, Jasper, walks through the glass doors toward us, his expensive-looking Walkman in hand.

"Jessica, what have I told you about the TV?" he questions, taking his Sennheiser headphones off.

Jessica turns around with a tight smile on her face to grab the remote control, switching off the television behind her desk.

"It's all about image and first impressions. Some of the shit displayed on TV is not exactly what we want our patients to see when they enter our practice." He tosses his Walkman into his tennis bag and leans in my direction. "Just yesterday, I was visually assaulted by a perfectly repugnant-looking anchor woman. She would've been a good candidate for at least six procedures. In fact, we should probably send her our business card and offer a free consult. We'd be doing the entire viewership of the five o'clock news a favor," he rambles on, gravitating closer. I shift my stance to maintain enough distance to avoid feeling his breath hitting my face, but not so far for him to notice.

"Anyway, I'm telling you, man, it's unbelievable what low standards those clowns up at CBS have," he continues, shaking his head. "I would've switched channels, but the chick at the front desk of my gym refused to hand me the remote. But here comes the real kicker—the worst wasn't over yet." He chuckles in amusement. "The first segment featured this obese woman with thighs the size of China, dressed in a neon green tank top and a mini skirt, clutching a hideous poodle to her ballooned chest." Jasper stops with a scowl on his face. I wait a moment to see whether he has more to add, having learned from experience that it's best to let him rant. It calms him down, dispels some of his nervous energy, making sure he's exactly what I need him to be during surgery: a chill motherfucker.

When he starts inspecting his schedule, I know it's safe to move on. "I'll see you later."

I walk into my office, pull the white coat out of the closet and go over the files.

At ten, I pay a visit to our office kitchen. Glancing through the hallway into the waiting room on my way, I count four women: a blonde flipping through a copy of French Vogue, a redhead staring at her nails, and a middle aged matron with a teen-aged girl next to her. The girl's most likely here to cash in her sweet sixteen birthday present. Cosmetic surgery, the new rite of passage.

"Are you taking the blonde?"

"Yeah, that fine piece of chiseled ass is all mine," Jasper boasts while waiting for his espresso to finish brewing in our newly acquired Schaerer Celebration. "She's Aaron Meyer's ex-wife—you know, studio head of Fox? Plenty of dough to spend, Mike told me. He handled the divorce for her. Took her old man to the cleaners."

"The redhead, adult entertainment industry?" I guess.

"Looks like it. Vivid Entertainment paid for the consultation." Jasper is good with gossip; it's necessary information to succeed in this town. Schmoozing is his thing, which is why I agreed to partner with him.

"Saline or silicone?" I ask, setting a cup under the chrome dispenser.

He's also much better at figuring out what they want, sparing me from talking longer than I care to with our patients. I've always been strictly a scalpel man, which is why, on occasion, the thought has crossed my mind to leave the consultations entirely up to Jasper. Unfortunately, I can't do so without running the risk of losing at least thirty percent of our business. Jasper has trouble maintaining a professional doctor-patient relationship. As it stands, we lose some clients due to his unsavory habits, which continually lead him down the sticky paths I don't care to investigate or explore for that matter.

"When the feel's important, I say silicone."

"You're right."

"You know it!" He takes his cup and moves to the side. "I'm looking at houses in Malibu. I'd really like your input."

"Ask Alice. She knows all about real estate." He should know that I wouldn't willingly spend my Sunday stuck in traffic heading out to Malibu. The beach in general holds no appeal to me.

"She's back in L.A.?"

"Yep."

"So what happened? Didn't she move to New York just last year? Thought she had this sweet gig at Vanity Fair."

I turn to the Sub-Zero to get a bottle of water. "Well, she doesn't anymore."

"What happened? She got fired?"

"Seems safe to assume." From what I overheard during conversations between my parents, she suffered a psychotic episode, possibly induced by whatever swill she consumed at some get-together in one of the dimly lit clubs she frequents.

"So, she moved back in with your parents?"

"I believe so. Give her a call." Alice and I no longer talk. Well, she does and I don't. I only listen.

"Will do."

After inhaling the metallic, bitter scent of the espresso, I pour it down the drain and walk back to my office.

Five minutes later, Victoria, our nurse, knocks on my door. "Are you ready for your first patient, Dr. Cullen?" Looking at her, I'm reminded once again that she's too beautiful for our patients to relate to her. Nobody cares to stand exposed while a red-lipped, mascara-tipped former beauty queen watches. I was against hiring her, but Jasper insisted; "It's all about image!" his standard slogan, quickly followed. I compromised, which I seldom do, by hiring Victoria in exchange for his concession on hiring a competent and unattractive anesthesiologist.

"Yes, please. Bring her in."

Two minutes later, she brings in the redhead. I don't get up; I never do, pretending instead to be busy reading her file.

"Take a seat," I instruct her, not looking up from my paperwork. She hasn't spent more than a minute in my office, and she already annoys me, chewing gum as vigorously as a cow would her twice-digested grass while tapping her too long fingernails on the arms of the white leather chair across from my Knoll glass desk. "Mrs. Denali, I can see from your file that you're interested in a breast augmentation and some liposuction. Do you have a clear vision of what you'd like to accomplish with the surgery?"

"Tanya's fine."

"Excuse me?"

"Please don't call me Mrs. Denali, Doc. Makes me feel like my mom."

"I see. " I glance at her. The red is a couple of shades too bright, indicating a dye job, the Louis Vuitton clutch on her lap a knock-off. She smiles and I notice that she could use some braces. I'll ask Jessica to hand her the card to an orthodontist. "Have you given any thought on where you want to end up size-wise with the breast augmentation?"

"I don't know. You tell me. What ya think, Doc?" She blows a bubble and pops it while pushing her chest forward. "I guess you'll need to examine me first, huh?" she says when I don't respond.

"Yes, I was simply trying to gauge whether you had any preferences, any ideas." I call Victoria via the intercom and tell her to pick up the patient again to take her to the exam room.

"See, not bad," she says when I enter the room. The patient is sitting on the table, the robe hanging at her hips. She's a C-cup with some initial sagging due to the weight associated with the size. Clearly proud of them, she's grabbing them, pinching her areolas until her nipples are pointing straight at me.

"I told Tony I don't need 'em, but he insisted." She gives Victoria an eye roll, trying to establish a female bond. Victoria nods at her to show empathy.

"We could do a lift and insert an implant that would add some fullness. Maybe give you a big C to a small D. Would that suit you?"

"Sounds perfect."

"Now, about the lipo. Please stand up." Letting go of the robe as if she was performing a striptease at a low rate strip-club with neon signs and full of hollering hillbillies, she stands up.

Her hips show the mild beginning of saddlebags forming, but nothing that some exercise wouldn't tighten up and certainly nothing that merits another surgery on my tight schedule. Her Mons pubis is bare, the skin showing signs of razor burn and in-grown hairs.

I've seen enough. I turn around, discard my gloves in the steel waste canister, and tell her to get dressed and return to my office.

"That's all? You're not even going to touch?"

I turn around to look at her. The strong lighting makes her hair look brassier and lends her skin a green glow. She covers up, almost as a defensive gesture in response to my stare, and I open the door and leave.

The chewing gum is gone when she returns. I wait until she sits down before I give her my canned speech.

"Here are some informational brochures on the procedure." I push the leaflets about breast augmentation over the table in front of her. "I'd like to advise you that if you select to proceed with the surgery, there are certain risks involved. Both pain and recovery time will be substantial and should not be underestimated. I will prescribe medication to alleviate the worst pain, though I advise you take them with great caution. While I can guarantee a perfect shape, I cannot guarantee that either the procedure or recovery will be without complications. In addition, there'll likely be some loss of sensation around the nipples. Any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us. If you decide to have the surgery, please schedule an appointment with Jessica."

Narrowing her eyes at me, she doesn't respond for a second.

"What about the lipo?"

"I would advise against it. If you absolutely insist, I will perform a minor procedure on your outer thighs, but I'd strongly encourage you to join a gym and tighten the small amount of fat tissue through exercise instead. In my experience, the excess fat currently accumulating at your outer thighs will usually appear in another area of your body if it's removed via liposuction."

"I guess that's why you're considered the best. You don't sell stuff people don't need. Well … that and the fact that what you touch comes out perfectly. The girls on the set all say your hands are magic. Did you know that?" She flips her hair over her left shoulder and continues, not expecting a response from me. "But I tell you what, Doc, it sure as hell isn't your personality that keeps the customers coming."

She schedules only the breast augmentation, not the lipo, Jessica confirms later on.

The next consultation is an easy one; any advice doled out from me would fall on deaf ears. Patient number two has been through numerous procedures, some performed at the hands of someone with less refined skills. She knows exactly what she wants, doesn't expect idle chatter and isn't keen on getting any extra attention.

When Jasper asks me to switch my next patient with his, I agree. His request informs me that the patient is either extremely unattractive or past the age of fifty. Unlike him, I don't care what I start out with; only the outcome matters. It's what I get compensated for.

I'm surprised at first when I see the petite blonde in her thirties sitting across from me. The patient wants double-D breast implants, arguing that her husband, a newly rich trucking mogul, likes them big. I doubt he has ever voiced his tastes to her. She probably came to that conclusion after finding some carelessly hidden pornography in his office. I inform her that she'll have back problems if I increase her to a double- D on her five-foot-two, 100-pound frame and her husband won't be able to tell the difference between the implant I'm proposing and the one she wants.

I'm about to toss my gloves and leave the room when she mumbles, "Dr. Cullen? There's something else I would maybe like you to take a look at. Just to see whether there's anything that can be done?"

"Please stand up and remove the robe."

"Well … I'm not sure-"

"About what exactly?"

"That you'd be in the right position to see." She turns red, fumbling with the strings on her robe, acting like she's a much younger woman than the thirty-five-year-old her file tells me she is. "I've had three kids, and the last one, well..."

"I see." I check her chart and see that while she hasn't checked off the appropriate boxes to identify she's interested in vaginal rejuvenation or labiaplasty, she has noted that she has an "issue" she would like to discuss privately, which is probably what tipped Jasper off. While Jasper's not lacking in appetite for the female sex, he has no stomach for looking at the actual organ itself.

"That shit's gross. I can't get hard for three days after that," he complained when I asked him about it once.

"Victoria, why don't you take our patient over to the other examining room," I order before turning toward the patient. "There'll be a chair there with retractable stirrups."

Sitting between her legs with the light adjusted in the right position, I nod in Victoria's direction. She knows the drill and moves to stand next to me, spreading the labia majora out for my inspection.

What I see in front of me is a combination of congenital defects and extensive wear and tear. The labia minora is shaped irregularly and larger than her labia majora; the clitoral hood has an excessive amount of skin, allowing for limited stimulation. In addition, there's substantial tissue damage around the vulva.

A one-minute survey tells me all I need to know.

"That's all," I tell Victoria, who moves away too quickly, stumbling over a cable in the process. I reach out to steady her and my hand brushes against the patient's thigh. She squirms, moving up on the table.

"Sorry. Your hands, they feel really cold." A nervous laugh escapes her thin lips.

~o0o~

The Glassman rhinoplasty goes smoothly. The patient is under when I walk into the operating room. I pick the music—none of the synthpop Jasper prefers, only the unadulterated sound of jazz trumpets—and the minor bump, which I would have advised against removing, is gone when I stitch her up. Jasper takes all consults under eighteen; apparently my demeanor scares younger girls, though he's refused to divulge specifics when I requested them.

About four o'clock, I send my last consult to the door. I'm planning on heading out of the office early to enjoy the rest of my day alone when Jasper knocks on my door and opens it without further invitation.

"Cullen, I gotta run out for a meeting. Can you take my last patient?"

"What kind of meeting?" I inquire, more to make him squirm than actually wanting to know.

"I swear it's no ripped-apart vagina. I think she's young."

"I don't care."

"Okay, it's drinks with a producer, but he'll be able to direct some nice referrals our way."

"Go, but don't ask for patients you can't handle." I'm not willing to handle more surgeries and Jasper can only be entrusted to do minor ones alone.

I peruse the file of Jasper's patient. She's indicated she's interested in a breast augmentation and nothing else. Payment for the consultation was charged to a MasterCard in the patient's name.

"Please have a seat. I'll be right with you," I say when I hear the door open and close. I detect no footsteps, no bag being dropped, not even her breathing while I stare at the documents in front of me.

When I look up, my eyes are instantly drawn to the slight brunette sitting in the chair across from me. An emotion I've never experienced takes hold of me, an unfamiliar heat spreading across my cold skin.

Her brown hair, natural, not teased or stiffened with hairspray, is falling in long waves over her shoulders. Her pale skin, untouched by the sun, lends her a ghostly glow against the backdrop of hard silver edges, glass surfaces and grey walls. It's nearly impossible to catch her. She's like an apparition; if you blink once, she might not be there again.

She's wearing a simple, white cotton blouse, no jewelry aside from a plain gold ring on her thumb and a cheap watch, and nondescript shoes.

Everything about her is an anachronism, yet she sits in my office searching for something so average and commercial that it can only exist now, at this very moment in time, when Rambo and Rocky have become anointed heroes of modern cinema, autofocus lenses allow the capture of an image without anyone ever really seeing it, AIDS wracks the nation while sex sells more consumer goods than at any prior point in history, and the stock pile of nuclear missiles grows steadily while a mediocre actor with dementia has control over the magic button.

Involuntarily, I blink. When I open my eyes, fully expecting the girl to be gone, she smiles.

"Ms. Swan."

"Yes?" Her voice rings like a melody. She bites her bottom lip and leans back farther, almost as if she's shying away from me, melting into the chair.

I cough to catch myself. "How can I help you?"

She moves to straighten up, her eyes scanning my desk. "I think I indicated on the questionnaire that I'm interested in getting breast implants." Her voice sounds as mesmerizing as before, but the words don't match. "Actually, I'm pretty certain I want them."

"Why?" The word tumbles out before I can stop myself.

"Why?" She repeats with a wondrous expression on her face. "It's a long story."

"I have time."

"It's not an interesting one." She laughs, her focus veering to the floor.

"Please."

She shifts in her chair and then sighs. "Well, where do I start?" I try my best to give her an encouraging smile. It seems to be working. She exhales and then starts, "When I was twelve, I realized for the first time that I didn't quite fit in. Half the girls in my grade were starting to buy bras, but I was lagging behind. My mother told me to be patient, so I didn't worry about it for a while. Not until I had my first boyfriend. I was about fifteen. It didn't last long. Only a couple of weeks." Her eyes wander to her lap; she's playing with the plain gold ring on her thumb. "I barely remember what he looked like, but I remember something he once said to me, 'You're as flat as my mom's ironing board. No man will ever want you.' Turns out, he was right." She pauses and looks up at me through her lashes, blushing slightly.

"I can spare you the middle part, the awkward years that followed. The truth is, for a long time I really didn't care. Well, maybe I did … a little. Once, I remember my mom bought me this dress to attend a party. It must have been right around when I graduated college. I was still living on campus until the fall. I couldn't wear it. It was the prettiest blue dress, but it had no straps and even after my roommate altered it, it didn't really fit and it … it simply didn't look right on me. But as you can see," she holds out her arms, opening herself up for inspection, "I don't care that much for fashion, so for the most part, it really didn't bother me."

"What changed?"

"I met someone."

"And he … " I stop and start again. "He has expressed that he doesn't like you the way you are?"

She squirms a bit, before answering, "Not exactly."

"You assume? Based on what exactly?"

"I should say that we're not dating," she says in a voice so low that I strain to hear her. "He's my neighbor. We talk a lot. He doesn't know how to cook, so sometimes I invite him over for dinner or breakfast at my place. It's no trouble really." She's blinking, shaking her head in embarrassment. "I cook often."

"I don't understand."

"Well, he doesn't date any one in particular, but every so often he does bring a girl home to … you know?"

I nod.

"Anyway, he doesn't seem to have a type, as in hair color or shape, except for one thing: they all have big breasts."

My eyes linger on her form in a way I'd deem inappropriate considering the place and time, and detect no imperfection in her form.

"You think I'm pathetic, huh? I'm in love with a guy who doesn't even realize how I feel about him." Her shoulders slump in resignation.

"You believe the surgery will change how he feels about you?"

"No! I might be a virgin, but I'm not an idiot," she responds heatedly, before blushing—this time brightly. "It's just … if I had them, maybe he'd pay me enough attention to finally figure out that … that we're perfect for each other."

"Your motive doesn't make you appear weak. It's pure."

"Great." She huffs. "That's not what I'm looking for."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm sorry. I can't do this for much longer." She reaches for her bag, deposits it on her lap and plays with its brown leather strap. I can't get a good read on her and hence find her words and behavior confusing.

"I'm not sure what you mean?"

She sighs. "I had to take a second job to pay for this, so if you don't mind, I'd like to wrap this up, so I can start my shift on time."

"I'm sorry." Snapping into auto-mode, I call Victoria and ask Ms. Swan to wait for me in the examining room.

"Dr. Cullen?" Victoria stops me in my tracks in the hallway.

"Yes?"

"My boyfriend just called. He's waiting downstairs for me. I asked the patient if she would be all right with you by herself. She had no problem. Do you mind if I head out?"

I try to swallow unsuccessfully. Normally, I don't care so long as the patient feels comfortable. I instituted the practice when I noticed that it puts most female patients, which are the bulk of our clientele, more at ease in my presence. With her, something is off. It doesn't seem safe.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Cullen. I know you prefer me to be present … but James … he's …" Victoria reminds me that she's still waiting for my answer.

"It's okay."

I wait until she leaves before I knock on the door lightly.

"Come in."

When I enter, she's sitting on the table, her gown wrapped around her tightly covering her upper body, her hands rubbing her thighs nervously.

"If you don't feel comfortable, I can ask Victoria to come back," I lie to put her at ease.

"No, it's fine. I'm fine." She shoots me a questioning look, her hands moving hesitantly to the cord that holds the robe together. I approach her slowly in measured steps until I come to stand in front of her. Her hands shake; a shiver runs through her as she's reaching for the white fabric.

"You're cold."

"I'm fine."

"I can turn down the air-"

"No, no. It won't take long, right?"

"No. I'll be quick," I assure her.

The overhead light shining on her lends her skin a pearly shimmer; it appears translucent, showing every blue artery and vein. Her collarbones, as fine as strings, protrude. Contrary to my nature, I find myself savoring the sight; my eyes move first to her shoulders specked with light freckles, up her delicate, long neck, detecting her pulse in the carotid artery, and to her face, viewing what I shouldn't.

I halt when my eyes reach hers, silently asking for permission. She swallows and then closes her eyes briefly, allowing me to see her purple lids.

Deliberately, I shift my focus.

My eyes didn't trick me when I first saw her. Her breasts, like the rest of her, are small, yet perfect. Her areolas are small and in a rosy hue I've never seen before, but what makes me reach the conclusion that I will never let any metal mar her perfection is something else. I close my eyes slowly and open them again, to ensure that it's not an illusion and the second glance confirms it: they are perfectly symmetrical, an aberration of nature. Two breasts are never identical, and I've seen thousands. I want to measure them, touch to confirm; though I know I can trust my eyes, I want to see it in numbers. My hands are itching, but my brain stops me. My touch would be inappropriate and would only send her running. I can't stand to lose her, not yet.

"You shouldn't …" I stammer. "He's a fool."

"I'm not paying you to make that assessment." Her levelheaded response takes me by surprise.

"You don't understand."

"What's there to understand?"

I shift my gaze back to her eyes. "They are in perfect symmetry." She shoots me an incredulous glance.

"I'm not sure I know what you mean."

"Two breasts are never the same. One is always smaller or differently shaped. The differences are usually minute; it takes more than a cursory examination to detect them. Mostly. Yours are exactly the same. To surgically alter them would be a crime," I explain.

She glances down at her chest with furrowed brows. I motion with my hand for her to get up.

As she stands up, her robe falls open, exposing grey cotton underwear. I walk her to the full-length mirror hidden behind a curtain in the other corner and take off the fabric so she can see. Slowly, I slip the robe off her shoulders without touching her and come to stand behind her. She's over a foot shorter than me.

Ignoring all my rules, I let my hands hover near the outer swell of her breast. Without touching her skin, I point out to her how all the measurements are exactly the same. The distance to her nipple is the same from every angle, the tissue below exactly the same volume.

"You see?"

"I don't care." She bends down, picks up the robe and pulls it close in front of me. "I still want the surgery."

"Please. I can't let that happen."

"Fine. I go see someone else."

I panic. "No."

"You can't stop me!" She grabs her clothing and starts moving toward the dressing area.

"Please, promise me you'll think about it?"

She hesitates. Clutching her clothes to her chest, as if trying to protect herself, she stares at me. I take it as a good sign.

"Please think about it for a week. Come see me then at the same time. If you still feel strongly about it at that point, we'll discuss size and schedule a date." When she still hesitates, I add, "I won't charge for another consultation."

"Fine," she relents, looking away from me.

"Thank you." I walk out the room to let her get dressed and return to my office.

I shrug my coat off and wait for five minutes, the time I believe it will take her to get dressed, before I walk out of my office. When I see her step in an elevator, I push my Ray Bans on and follow her.

When the doors open to the garage, I listen carefully for any sounds. I hear some footsteps in the distance and proceed to my car. I step on the clutch and push the stick shift into reverse. Near the exit, I wait, hoping to see her as she drives off.

No car leaves the garage for ten minutes. I shift into first gear and proceed out of the driveway. Methodically, I search for her, driving around the block several times before I see her walking on the sidewalk toward a bus stop. I wait around the corner until the bus comes and follow its route down Sunset Boulevard. She gets off after three stops, crosses the street and walks down the driveway to the Beverly Hills Hotel. She doesn't enter through the front entrance but walks down a narrow path with low hedges on both sides, leading to a green steel door.

I resist the urge to follow her and instead stroll in through the front doors. I order a scotch (Springbank 12-year-old, 100-Proof) at the bar in the hotel lobby, which allows me to see the comings and goings in front through the glass planes facing the entrance.

Time passes. I watch the valets change shifts and guests checking in and stopping for a drink. Around ten, after catching the waiter staring at my drink, I drain the liquid carefully into the vase filled with peonies, sitting on the side table next to my chair, and order another. It's almost one o'clock in the morning, when I catch sight of her hunched-over form, walking up the small sidewalk along the driveway.

I wait until she's a safe distance away before I head outside and hand my ticket to the valet.

Proceeding up the driveway in my car, I notice her standing at the corner and wait, checking the rear view mirror for approaching cars. Shortly after, a beat-up Chevy stops. A girl with light brown hair rolls down the window and calls out to her, and she gets in.

They drive to an apartment complex in West Hollywood. The girl who gave her the ride walks to a door on the first floor, while she takes the steps to the second one, opening the third door on the left.

I follow her up the stairs without any intention of knocking on her door. Her living room is visible through the window next to her door, so I peer in. A purple sofa sits against one wall with a wooden coffee table in front of it. Across the room, shelves stacked with rows and rows of books cover the wall. She turns the light off quickly and proceeds to a room facing the other side. I go back to my car, drive to the empty parking lot next to her building and wait. When the sun rises from the east, dawn slowly settling in a hazy, pale hue, I return to my apartment.

During the week until her next appointment, I continue following her on and off. In the mornings, an older, female coworker picks her up and drives her to her daytime job in Studio City.

Three times a week, she works at the Beverly Hills Hotel's reservation desk, answering the phone. I call the hotel's reservation line several times, but never get her. Once during that week, she rides with the girl who picks her up from her late night shifts at the hotel to a supermarket on North La Brea Avenue. On a Saturday night, while she's at home watching TV, I observe her neighbor—a dark-haired guy with a rat-tail and a build like he spends every spare minute at the gym—stumble home. With him is a girl too drunk to walk up the stairs. He half-carries her and she laughs, the shrill noise echoing from the hallway. I see her small form appear in the living room window, trying to hide behind her curtains, as the couple stumbles by. It takes great restrain not to stalk him down, toss him off the balcony onto the concrete floor, and watch him as his lungs, punctured by his broken ribs, fill with blood and he slowly suffocates.

My will to maintain a distance until her next visit slowly wanes as the seconds tick by. Yet, I worry that she sees me. I lament the fact that my car, a Mercedes 500 SEC, is too ostentatious, making it easier for her to notice my near constant presence. I buy a Porsche with tinted windows and use it instead after the first four days.

On the day of her appointment, I tell Jessica not to charge her and to refund the charge for the initial consultation. I hand her an extra check, which she slips into the crocodile purse I purchased for her around Christmas at Fred Segal's.

When Victoria knocks to bring her into my office, I shiver in anticipation. I detect her scent—water, myrtle, and roses—but don't dare to look up until she's closer.

"Ms. Swan, please have a seat."

I smile and then slowly focus my eyes on her.

"Hi." She looks tired; purple rings have sprouted under eyes, and her skin has lost some of its radiance.

"Have you given the surgery any further thought?"

She licks her lips and swallows before answering, "I have. I would like to proceed with it."

I exhale sharply, anger and frustration I can no longer suppress bubbling up. "Why would you to that to yourself? He, whoever he is, is not worth it, can't you see?" Before I realize it, I've jumped out of my seat to move closer to her, leaning over the table with my fingers pressing into the glass. She doesn't flinch and keeps on playing with the ring around her thumb. "Look at me!"

She shakes her head and gets up abruptly, her bag falling on the floor. A copy of Shakespeare's Hamlet, keys, and a Paper Mate blue ballpoint pen are strewn over the grey carpet.

"You don't understand!" she shouts, turning to look at me. "How could you? Your life is perfect. You're perfect. God, just look at yourself! Women must throw themselves at you."

"You don't know what you're talking about," I insist, but I can tell by the expression on her face that she doesn't believe me.

"I just …" She stumbles backward, and her hands fly up to her face. I hear a low sob break free and rush to her, halting right in front of her. I want to reach out to hold her, to comfort her, to make her see how wrong she is.

I can't.

"Please," I whisper.

"Please, what?" she yells back, tears streaming down her face.

"It's not real. Just a trick. Nothing more. Please." I reach for her hand but don't touch it.

"I don't want your pity."

"I don't pity you." As she looks up at me, something in her eyes changes. I hope she can see the truth.

Before I realize what she's about to do, before I can stop her, her arms come up and she throws herself against me—her breath too hot, her cheeks still wet, her lips suddenly on mine. I push her away with too much strength. She tumbles backward at first and then catches herself.

I remain frozen in place as she collects her things hastily and runs out of the office.

In a daze, I tell Jessica to cancel my last appointment and leave my office shortly after. I drive home, take a shower in my customized multi-head steam shower, flip the switch in my bedroom that lets down the automatic blackout shades, and lie down in the California king-size bed covered in Egyptian cotton sheets.

I'm falling until my mind stops racing in circles, consciousness slips away, everything is dark and I'm floating. She's with me in the dark waters, surrounded only by the sky above us. Her ivory skin illuminated by the moon and the stars remains there, always just within reach, as the waves carry us. I don't know how long we stay like this; all I know is that I don't want it to end.

At seven, the sound of my alarm clock signals that it's time to start my day. I go for a thirty-minute run on the treadmill in the gym of my building. I detest the machines and the people; still, I've been told it's important to maintain a routine.

Randy Newman's "I Love L.A" is blaring from the stereo system, a girl dressed in a one piece over leggings and legwarmers is stretching on the mats before the mirrored wall, and three guys in drenched t-shirts run on the treadmills, as I enter and walk to an empty corner. A tall guy with dark hair walks toward me. "Edward, right?"

"Yes." I think his name is Emmett or Emile or Eric. I can't remember his name with certainty. I met him briefly, possibly at one of the parties Alice used to host while she was still at UCLA, before she transferred to NYU.

"So … this is kinda an odd question, but my wife, Rose, I think you've met her?" I don't recall him being married. "Well, she's interested in getting some surgery done and has heard great things about you."

I look at him, waiting for him to disclose something that is of value to me. He's shifting from foot to foot, a sign of anxiety. "I'll be sure to make a note of it when she stops by," I tell him and walk past him.

My schedule that day has no consultations on it, only surgeries. I'm relieved and proceed. Two simple rhinoplasties, one breast augmentation, one quick lipo.

"Cullen, wait up!" Jasper calls after me when I open my car door. "New ride?"

I smile.

"Nice. I meant to talk to you earlier. Are you available for lunch tomorrow?"

"I was thinking about taking tomorrow off. Is it anything urgent?" I request, trying to get out of any lunch obligations.

"I think we should test the waters, maybe expand to the East Coast?"

"Alice wants to move back."

"Yeah, how did you know? I know she tried calling you a couple of times last week and complained about you not calling her back. She was gonna come by the office, but I convinced her that it wasn't a good idea. Anyway, I know what you think. New York, why the hell, right? It's a dump. The garbage, the smell of piss, the subway … But hey, she likes it! And we'd do great business there."

"Never mind. Go ahead. Open up a practice New York. Call up Jenks, and let's talk about dissolving the LLP."

"Wait, what? I don't want to do it without you. I can't."

"I can't move."

"Right, right. Let's talk about it over dinner. Tomorrow night. What do you say? I'll make a reservation at Spago."

He walks away before I can respond. When I get home, I call Jenks and tell him to get the paperwork ready to dissolve our practice. I take my clothes off, lie down and close my eyes.

My mind drifts back to her, naturally. Her hair, her skin, her breasts, and the small scar on her wrist—the vision calms me—until a bright light disturbs the stillness.

It's not sunlight, but the glow of a tungsten halogen bulb. I walk down a hallway I don't recognize and enter the room where the source of the light is located. It's a standard operating room. Saline implants are lying in two steel bowls; a scalpel, dissectors, and tissue forceps are lined neatly on a steel tray. A stranger wearing green scrubs rubs Betadine on white skin. His gloved hand reaches for the scalpel. I take a step closer. Nobody stops me. When I recognize the breasts, I reach out to stop his hands, but my actions have no consequence. I can't halt his movements. Blood seeps through the first incision, and I cry out in pain.

My eyes fly open. The time flashing in red from the digital clock radio next to me reads three-o-five. Something feels strange in my chest. I can't contain it. I know what I need to do. I pick out a shirt, a pair of pants and shoes; I grab the car keys and run to the garage.

I drive down Sunset, turning on Hacienda Place and arrive in front of the light green façade of her apartment complex. I park in the street, stumbling over a homeless guy sleeping on the sidewalk as I walk to the building. His dog growls at me. I walk up the stairs, not slowing down. A light is on in her bedroom, shining through the crack between the door leading into it and the wooden floors. I press the bell and knock.

The light switches on in the living room. I detect her footsteps approaching the door and she opens it without looking through the peephole first. Wearing a simple white camisole, she stands in the door silently.

I blink first and my heart starts beating. I swallow and reach out my hand. At first, I leave it hovering near her cheek. She blinks up at me. My thumb grazes over her cheekbone as blood rushes through my hand.

"It's okay," I say.

My fingers trace the lines of her chin. A tingling spreads through my hands up my arms. Her skin's blushing, blood rushing. She shivers.

"I'm sorry." I move my hand away.

"No," she says. "Please." She steps back. I enter and close the door behind me.

Her eyes are searching, imploring, asking for permission. I nod. Her hand moves to my shoulder. It feels like it's on fire, heating my skin, bringing life to something that's never existed within me.

I bend down to press my lips to hers, tasting her. I move first, wanting more. She responds, gives in. I exhale as her trembling hands glide down my chest. Goosebumps spread over her chest, and my heart stumbles, misses a beat, when I see her nipples hardened under the thin fabric. Without permission, I touch.

"Perfect."

She shakes her head; my hands find her head, halting her movement. I kiss her. My fingers glide down and lift the straps off her shoulders. The piece of clothing slides to the floor. She presses herself against me and a strange need spreads through me. I move back to inspect, not to retreat, leaving my hands on her shoulders. My eyes linger over her shape, from the valley of her breasts to the plane of her stomach to her hips, in the same perfect symmetry as her breasts, down to the dark curls leading to her sex.

I fall to my knees slowly, touching, exploring, my lips pressing on her skin. I feel her, smell her, and watch her react to me. The short fine hair on her skin rises. She shifts, light laughter following, her arms covering her chest.

My fingers press between her legs, her breath falters. I taste her. I can't stop. She pulls at my shirt, then my hair.

"The bedroom," she says, taking my hand. She unbuttons my shirt and I shrug it off. Her soft skin touches, her hard nails graze. My dead heart beats faster until I feel it pulsing everywhere. One hand plays with the button of my pants while the other palms me lightly.

Another switch is flicked. I whimper; my hands find her shoulders. I push her onto the bed, lean over her, and kiss her, my body hovering over her. Clothed hips press against her.

I want more. I need more.

I roll to my side; she undoes my pants. With her hot hands on me, stroking me, I shiver.

Her brown eyes seek me out; uncertainty mars her features, her teeth cutting into her bottom lip. I rub my thumb over her lip and kiss her.

"Talk to me." I breathe in the scent near her pulse point.

"Is it okay?" Her hands touch my sex, pulsing with life. I exhale.

"Yes." Searching, wondering, I explore until I press on the spot she'll like. Reaching lower, I push into her, she gasps.

"Okay?"

"Yes."

We kiss and touch. It's foreign, yet familiar, like an ancient ritual. When she's ready, she pulls me on top of her.

"I want you," I tell her. "I've never wanted anyone before."

She nods; a tear rolls down her cheek. I lick the salty substance and push against the resistance. Warmth engulfs me, building up to flames. Alive, I pull back and press into heat, her heat. I smell iron intermingling with sweet odor.

She moves with me, eager hands roaming my back, pulling me and pushing me as she needs. I want her more.

And I can't stop.

Pleasure I've never felt before builds up, rushes through me. I give up when the fire starts burning hotter. Faster movements I no longer control lead up to a curious feeling, like a knot in the pit of me that wants to be ripped apart.

The feeling is stronger than me. I let it take hold without consideration for the consequences.

"Thank you," she whispers in my ear when life is all but drained.

"I love you."


A/N: As a historical side note, rumors about the purported dementia of the then sitting President were common Inside the Beltway during his second term in office.