A/N: At last, the long-awaited story! I'm so, so excited about this one, guys. I have a lot planned and a lot written, and I can't wait to share the journey with you. I love these variations on the characters so much, and I hope it will be a good way to spend the upcoming summer hiatus, not to mention cope with canon. I'm here until the bitter end, folks. This story is a different format than most, but I hope it's easy to adjust to. If anything is unclear, let me know.
I'd like to thank my biggest real-life cheerleaders, my beta JJ (themostrandomfandom), and my best friend Jane (PrairieJane), who always soothes my doubts.
Wherever the Dandelion Falls, Chapter 1: A Rope Untwisted
Sometimes if I stop to think for too long, I get this sickening feeling in my stomach that throbs through me, telling me I'm making all the wrong choices. I have the wrong friends or the wrong job or the wrong degree or I'm wearing underwear that might be a little too dark for these pants. The worry creeps up on me, then plows through me like a MUNI bus, leaving me in a cloud of eco-friendly panic, convinced I'm ruining my own life. Because it's my responsibility to live it right, right?
No one ever told me it was going to be like this. I thought I'd have a quirky aunt that would tell me which choice to make and why, with a dependable amount of clairvoyance. Never mind all my aunts are sane and live back home in Michigan, and never mind I've never been close to them. Since no such fairy-god-aunt has apparated, I'm forced to give everything my best guess.
Sometimes my best guesses suck. Like when I agreed to go out with Henry from my first semester seminar in Molecular Neuroscience. There was nothing offensive about him. I just had no business going out with someone I barely knew. Or rather, someone who knew nothing about me. Well, in an effort to avoid that end-of-date awkwardness, I made out with him and let him grope me a little. Mind you, this is grad school, not sixth grade, so it really should not have been a big deal. But the next week I find I've got this reputation in my graduate cohort for being easy, which isn't me at all.
Don't get me wrong, I love sex as much as the next person. But not indiscriminate sex with the numerous guys who approached me with grossly confident smirks over the next few semesters, as though they were certain I was a sure thing because Henry led them to believe I was.
I guess what I'm saying is, early mistakes can mess things up pretty bad. So I'm always trying to avoid those. The result is, though, that I end up with a bit of emotional and social paralysis. I don't make enough moves to seem interesting. I put so much effort into not ruffling other people's feathers, I forget to preen when it's appropriate.
Here's an example: a year ago, my roommate and best friend Justine set me up with a girl. The girl was very pretty and very smart and she had great style. I liked her. But I never got comfortable around her. I didn't know which shutters to open first. My passions? Fears? Wishes? Quirks? It was like the doors on an advent calendar that had to be opened in the exact right order, which I never figured out. Or at least, not before she stopped texting and calling. It just fizzled like soda that's been left out too long because I let my own second-guessing zap my carbonation.
Luckily there are a few people who can remind me that I'm not flat. Justine, for one. My parents and sister, who will happily recount any number of grievances from my childhood, like the time I wanted to open a summer camp for the neighborhood kids in our back yard and was one step away from ordering port-o-potties to be delivered before they intervened. Or the time I fed a jar of Jelly Beans to the vacuum cleaner. Stuff like that reminds me of my bubbles.
Few things in life are inevitable. The clothes I put on in the morning are not part of some pre-destined plan the universe has for me. The fact that I got a C- on my latest neuroscience paper doesn't mean women have no place in science. And the fact that I'm twenty-five, single, and haven't gotten laid in a year doesn't mean I'll end up alone.
Few things are inevitable, but there are some things that can't be avoided no matter how hard we try.
I knew nothing about Dr. Turner except that he was smart and handsome. Like, movie star handsome. He was clean-cut with a hint of a five-o'clock shadow on his strong jaw line. He mesmerized the rows of neuroscience grad students with his poise and knowledge on the day he guest lectured. So when he happened to be the only other person in the elevator with me after class, I racked my brain for something friendly to say. I'd have to be painfully shy or a bumbling idiot not to at least try to talk to him. I don't think I'm either of those things.
"That was a great lecture, Dr. Turner."
It wasn't the most creative thing to say, but it worked.
He bobbed his head once, hands folded around the handle of his briefcase in front of him. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."
"The rest of the class did too. They don't sit up as straight or pay as close attention to the regular professor."
"I think people are just more polite to a guest lecturer," he said with a dismissive smile.
I shrugged. If he didn't want to talk, I couldn't make him. Compliments aren't open topics, anyway. I probably should have thought of something more engaging.
As we rode down in silence, I noticed some chalk on his shoulder. "You have some… some dust on your jacket," I stammered, gingerly brushing his shoulder.
Dr. Turner looked at his shoulder and finished dusting it off.
"Thank you," he said. He flashed me a smile as the bell dinged, signaling we had reached the ground floor. He gave me a polite nod before stepping out into the foyer of the building.
I saw something flutter from his pocket.
"Dr. Turner," I called after him. "You dropped something."
Dr. Turner turned around as I bent to pick up a twenty-dollar bill. I looked at him through my lashes as I stood up and offered the bill to him.
"Thank you," he said contemplating me in the different light of the building lobby. "Most people wouldn't be so honest."
I shrugged, still holding out the twenty. "It's not my money."
Dr. Turner studied my face for a moment before taking the money from my hand.
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name earlier."
He nodded, squinting for a moment as he studied me.
"Would you like to have a drink with me tomorrow night?"
I could feel my face grow warm and I was sure I was blushing a little. I had not expected him to ask me out. That was pretty much the best reaction I could have hoped for. I tried not to seem too eager as I smiled. "Sure."
He bobbed his head, holding up his phone with an expectant smile. I realized he wanted my number, so I recited it dutifully. When he was done programming it in, he folded it back into his pocket and left without saying anything else.
When I got back to my apartment that night, I was bursting to tell Justine. I dropped my messenger bag with my textbooks by the door and rushed over the to the couch where she sat tossing popcorn in her mouth as she watched something on the History Channel.
"Guess what," I said in an excited, low voice.
"You finally agreed to go out with one of your classmates," she mocked.
"Better," I grinned. "Our guest lecturer in Neurogenetics asked me out."
That got Justine's attention. She tore her eyes from what looked like footage of an railway construction on the screen. "For serious?" she asked, scrunching her nose in disbelief.
"Real Housewives serious," I said.
Justine rolled her eyes. If there was one thing that she couldn't stand, it was reality television. She was always telling me about the latest thing she'd heard on NPR or the awesome new co-op we should check out a few blocks away. She wore acid-wash jeans over her curvy hips, and trendy t-shirts with names of bands I had never heard of, but felt, by association with Justine, I should. She had no appreciation for Housewives, so I was restricted to watching in my room on my laptop or waiting until she went to Santa Cruz for the weekend to watch in the living room.
I told her about my date and she was pleasantly surprised that I was trading in the yoga pants and fuzzy socks that were my usual Saturday night outfit for a pair of skinny jeans and a blouse she made me buy last year.
The following morning I woke early and went for my usual run around the neighborhood. Aside from a few other joggers, of which this city has no shortage, the rest of Telegraph Hill was still sleeping as I made my usual jogging rounds. When I returned home, I got a text from Dr. Turner:
Sorry, but I have to postpone tonight. Can we reschedule for next weekend?
I tried to sound upbeat as I assured him we could, and went about the rest of my weekend as though I wasn't disappointed he had canceled on me.
I started to worry when I hadn't heard from him by the following Friday. Was he just giving me the brushoff but was too much of a coward to cancel outright? I didn't want him to get away with that. Maybe if I pretended I had other offers, he'd feel like he couldn't string me along and would duck out gracefully. I sent him a message.
Hey, are we still on for tomorrow night?
A few minutes later, his reply came. Sure. Text me your address and I'll pick you up at 8.
It wasn't encouraging, but I wasn't ready to give up on the possibility of going out with him.
The following night, Dr. Turner was fifteen minutes late picking me up. I had changed out of the jeans and blouse I'd picked out into a pencil skirt and different blouse. I added a bracelet my high school boyfriend gave me and put on a little extra eye makeup. Not too forced, but it looked like I'd made the right amount of effort. I smoothed over my skirt, wondering if it made my stomach look strange. But before I could decide, I heard a knock at the door. My stomach fluttered with nerves, and I went to answer it.
"Hi," I said with a bright smile.
Dr. Turner didn't look any different than he did during lecture. But work clothes and date clothes are the same for men sometimes. Not for girls.
He smiled back at me, but kept his hands in the pockets of his slacks. "Ready to go?" he asked.
I kept my nervous smile plastered on my face and nodded, turning to pick up my purse. I thought about inviting him in for a drink, but my place was pretty small and Justine hadn't done the dishes in a few days even though it was her month. Plus, even though Dr. Turner was a professor, he could still be a psycho, so it was best to stay in public until I knew he wasn't crazy.
We went to a restaurant in the Castro. I asked about his PhD studies and what his dissertation had been about. He talked a lot, looking around him distractedly. It felt like watching one of those reality dating shows where the contestants are poorly matched. One is disinterested, yet the other works hard, picking up all the slack, feeling foolish for making an effort because he or she knows the audience is cringing at everything about the date.
So I just gave up. Dr. Turner wasn't interested in me, and that was just going to be that. I stopped talking, looking around the restaurant to decipher what was more interesting than my recount of my family vacation through Yellowstone, which he had asked about in the first place. I imagined the agile way Justine would roll her eyes when I told her what a snooze he was and felt a little better about myself.
"Don't waste your time with that crap," she would say. "Find someone who hangs on your every word and let them swing."
It was easier to let the conversation drop when I imagined Justine giving her approval to do so.
So I started commenting on the things around the room, not caring if Dr. Turner had the decency to comment back.
There were several pieces of art and a few fashionable young couples around us, but nothing remarkable. The most interesting thing in the room was the bar, where a man in a white shirt and black vest was mixing and pouring drinks. Any drink someone ordered, he knew how to make from memory.
I wondered how he kept track of all the different combinations; how did he know a Manhattan from a Cosmo? A mai tai from a mojito? Were they filed in some kind of savant Rolodex in his mind, or had he been doing this for so long, they were second nature?
"Bartending must be really interesting," I mused. "I think I'd like to do that."
For some reason, that got Dr. Turner's attention. "Bartending?"
"Yeah," I shrugged.
A curious smile spread across his face, as though it was the most amusing thing he'd heard all day. "Go for it," he said, gesturing with his hand.
"You think?" I said, surprised at his enthusiasm.
He gave a nod that was deeper than I expected. "I did it in grad school. Good way to pay off loans," he said, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head. "I know tuition's not cheap."
I bit the corner of my lip, unsure. "I was hoping to get a job in the field," I admitted.
Dr. Turner shook his head. "Market's no good right now," he said. "You'd be counting caterpillars."
I didn't know how to respond to that. I don't even remember if I did. But when I went home that night, I started looking up drink recipes. By the time I deleted Dr. Turner's number from my phone after a few weeks of no contact from him, I had a job slinging beers at a pub a few blocks away.
A few months later I finished graduate school. I had a Master's in neuroscience, which I always imagined I would know exactly what to do with. Now my diploma seemed to taunt me, leaning out a centimeter from the wall in its gilded frame, reminding me that I invested two years and thousands of dollars and sleepless nights to be where I was.
It might have felt like an achievement if I had known where exactly I was.
I put off telling my sister about my bartending job as long as I could without being an asshole. She's not that bad, but I never hang up from our conversations feeling good about myself. She never puts me down directly. Like most girls, she's more indirect. There's either a hint of sarcasm in her questions and comments, or she smiles too much to be genuine.
But I knew I had to call Kimi back eventually. I waited until Justine got home, so she could get me out of a painful conversation by yelling that something was smoking in the kitchen if I gave her our "help me" signal of wiggling my nose like the lady in Bewitched.
I sat crosslegged on my bed, facing the wall. As the phone rang, I traced the edges of the pictures I had taped up, wishing the San Francisco humidity didn't curl the edges, necessitating they be taped in all four corners if I didn't want them to look sloppy like a dorm room. My room is kind of like a dorm room. It's small and overly decorated. I keep it neat, though. There's just a lot of stuff.
I was hoping Kimi wouldn't pick up, but we had a date to talk, and she never misses scheduled things.
"Hey, B," she said. When she was younger, it sounded more like a chirp, but now it sounded more rushed and businesslike. I could almost imagine her in her black or grey suit, powerwalking down a street in New York. Everything Kimi does feels like she's powerwalking. She could be weeding a garden or taking out the trash or painting a picture, and I would still feel like she was powerwalking in some way.
"Hey, Kimi," I said, trying not to sound weary, but failing. "How are you?"
"Busy, stressed, and loving every minute of it," she said. Something in her voice sounded distracted, and I pictured her holding her arm up to hail a cab.
"How's the market this week?" I asked. It was an obligatory question, since I neither cared nor would I understand her response.
"It can't decide which way it wants to go," Kimi muttered. "Kind of like you." She giggled, trying to be lighthearted, but I couldn't help but feel patronized. Just because I've dated guys and girls doesn't mean I haven't made up my mind.
"Yeah, well. One of these days you'll see that's the only way to be," I said, forcing cheer into my voice, hoping it would warn her off bringing up my dating history.
She has a lot of judgment about the people I've dated, but for no particular reason. None of them were crazy or deceitful. Just because she has a perfect Wall Street boyfriend in a Wall Street suit with a Wall Street paycheck doesn't mean she knows everything. But she sure acts like she does.
"How's the job search?" she asked.
I cringed. I knew she was going to ask. But I still hated the question. She'd started asking about my job search in September, which was way too much pressure for me. At the time I was still nine months away graduating and didn't have the energy to put into a job search. Or the desire, frankly. But I'd swatted the question away too many times for her not to be suspicious.
Still, I tried one more time. "You worry about me too much," I said, making my words high like I was smiling.
"Yeah, well, someone needs to."
There was a pause because I didn't know what to say. So I changed the subject. "How's your place? You said you moved out of the Village and into SoHo?"
"You're avoiding my question."
I sighed. I was going to have to tell her. "I have a job."
"That's great, Britt!" Kimi chirped in surprise. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because you're going to give me crap about it and I don't want to hear it."
Kimi seemed taken aback by that. She paused before saying, "I wouldn't give you crap."
I rolled my eyes. Of course she would.
"You can tell me. Is it bean counting or something?"
There was a moment of stunned silence before she said, "Oh." She must have realized she reacted exactly as I predicted she would act, because she tried to cover quickly. "That's - that's not so bad, right? It's fun? I bet you make lots of money in tips. And you don't have to work with nerds."
"Hey, I'm a nerd," I said, smiling to try to lighten up the conversation.
"Yeah, but I meant like the computer science type nerds. So, uh, what kind of bar? Like a cocktail bar?"
"It's a pub," I said. "O'Reilly's."
"Cool!" she said. But the word felt too tight, like she was forcing herself to be enthusiastic about my chosen profession. "So what, uh, what made you take that job?"
"I dunno," I said, shrugging. I was forcing myself to act casual so she would get the hint and stay casual too. "I figured I needed a break from academia. I've been going to school nonstop since I was four, so..."
The rest of the conversation meandered on, feeling more like an exchange of the insignificances in our lives. We were talking, which is something sisters should do. When it was over, I was immensely relieved. I could tell my dad we'd talked, and he'd be happy.
After six months at O'Reilly's, I decided to expand my horizons. The pub was fun, but there was a lot of football and a frat boys and awkward flirting that made me cringe. In an effort to find the perfect work environment, I walked around the Castro, seeing if the atmosphere was more to my liking. It turned out it was, and a week later, I was hustling behind the bar of a bona fide San Francisco gay bar.
It was about ten o'clock one night when things started getting hectic. If the crowd around the bar didn't indicate it, the nerves of Dave, my favorite coworker, certainly did. He was usually a pillar of ease and good humor, but when he started bustling around, I knew we were busy.
"Where the hell is Abby?" he yelled over the noise of the jukebox.
Jules' still had a jukebox, one of the things I had loved about the place at first, but now detested, as there were many songs that were predictably overplayed. I had yet to get through a shift without at least two Journey songs blasting through the bar. Prince and Michael Jackson and Madonna were also mainstays.
Soon my face hurt from smiling at the customers as I poured beer and mixed drinks. The bar was famous for our extra-strong Long Island iced teas, which I liked making. I could do it in my sleep, choreographed perfectly with flicks of my wrist and a flirtatious-but-nonthreatening smile at the customer. Then I'd flip a flimsy napkin onto the damp bar and set the plastic cup down before poking a straw into the ice and telling the customer how much of their hard-earned money they'd have to part with for the opportunity to drink the concoction that got nine out of ten girls drunk by the time they finished the drink. Compared to the equivalent four or five beers she'd have to consume, it was probably the best deal in the house.
When a slight lull in the crowd happened, around midnight, Dave gave me a friendly nod.
"How're you doing tonight?"
Dave was sweet and nonthreatening, despite his burly stature. Inside he was a teddy bear. I was always glad to work with him, because I had seen him break up a few brawls and knew he would be able to keep things under control and protect me should the need arise. Not that I liked thinking like that. I don't like depending on men for my protection. But at the end of the night, I tried not to have a problem with Dave staying until we locked up. It just felt better. And to top things off, Dave was harmless in other ways too. Like most of our customers, Dave was so gay, when I wore my "boob shirt," he commented on how well the color went with my skin tone.
"Not too bad," I smiled, pouring a vodka tonic without looking.
"You never do too bad," he said with an amused grin.
I gave him a knowing smile in return and studied him, noticing he was more clean-shaven and primped than usual.
"You're looking sharp yourself. Someone special here tonight?" I teased.
Dave blushed as he picked up a tray of dirty glasses. "No. But I'm meeting up with someone afterwards."
I made a mock wolf-whistle at him and he flushed deeper pink. I studied him as he loaded the tray into the wash, avoiding eye contact. I set the drink in front of the customer and took their card to start a tab.
"You like this one, don't you?" I said, delighted to see Dave so flustered.
He ran a hand over his gelled hair and tried to bite back a grin.
It warmed my heart to see him so happy over a guy for once. "Well when it's time, bring him around so I can vet him," I said, giving Dave a playful punch.
He rubbed his arm and grinned wider. "'Kay."
I turned back to a pack of hairless, preened young men who were crowding the bar, elbows resting on the woodstained counter to claim their territory. I didn't know who had been there the longest, but I went with the one who looked least like an asshole. "What can I get you?" I shouted over the music.
"Appletini," he said, holding up a peace sign. "Two."
I nodded and ducked to get two glasses from under the counter. I kept my gaze down as I selected the bottles and mixers I would need, thinking that maybe Dave and I could start a bet about how many appletinis we would sell that night. It would be a lot. The charming, arrogant gay boys of San Francisco seemed to love them.
Don't get me wrong, I love the patrons at Jules'. But there's no denying that in their world, there is a pecking order. As a tall, blonde, white girl, I wasn't even on their radar, which they made sure to remind me of regularly.
Over the hypnotic thumping of Rihanna's Pour It Up, I turned back to the counter, asking the next "homo-lemming", as Dave called the perfectly chiseled, GQ type of men that frequented the bar, what he wanted to drink. The customer ordered a Shirley Temple and I smiled at him. There were a decent number of men who came in and never drank alcohol. I don't know if they were sober, but I admired that their abstinence from booze didn't curtail their partying.
I mixed a Shirley Temple and scanned the crowd to see if any of the regulars were around. Chad was my least favorite patron, a orangey-tan man, about six feet tall, who wore too much gold jewelry and had his teeth bleached until they glowed almost blue. He rarely tipped me, and I'd overheard a particularly graphic account of his most recent anal bleaching experience one time. Not that that was an anomaly; I'd heard just about everything under the sun, from fist-shaped dildoes to cum fetishists to a young man who claimed to have banged Lance Bass once. But Chad just annoyed the hell out of me, and further adding to my annoyance was the fact that he always seemed to have a harem of loyal gay boys around him. It wasn't Chad's preoccupation with his appearance that made him undesirable. It was just that there were so many more deserving people. People like Dave.
Relieved to not see Chad and his harem, I glanced over at the dance floor. I saw a flash of pink feather boa. That wasn't unusual. But I noticed quite a few of them, and when a rhinestoned tiara caught the light, I realized it was a bachelorette party.
That meant good news for the bar, but bad news for tips. My boob shirt didn't work on the bachelorettes that came into the bar to party with the gay boys, as though a gay bar were the most exciting thing on earth. Now, working in the gay bar was far more fun than working in a dive and watching the painful mating behaviors of women who felt they were approaching spinsterhood and men who didn't give them the time of day. Sadder still were the men who crawled after the girls, yet didn't receive a passing glance. Somehow, watching the chiseled hierarchy of the gay bar scene felt less painful. Everyone got attention somewhere. And even if I was low on the totem pole, plenty of men would talk fashion or music with me if things were slow.
The bachelorette party must have been the ones responsible when Journey came blasting over the jukebox speakers. I groaned, but the shrieks and increased animation from the dance floor confirmed my assumption. What is it with girls and Journey?
I finished printing someone's bill and lay it on the bar for the customer to sign. I put my hands on my hips, feeling the bar apron slung low and secure, and gave my practiced and impersonal smile to the next customer.
Holy god. She was beautiful. Her hair was silky and shiny and not a single black strand was out of place. Her skin was flawless and glowing and her cheeks were so round and smooth, they looked airbrushed. Long, painted lashes hung over dark, shiny eyes and a straight little nose. And below that... lips. Perfect, pillowy lips that were stained to perfection with what had to be the luckiest lipstick on earth.
I was glad my smile was already in place because now I couldn't move.
"Two long islands," the girl said, a folded twenty poking out from between two manicured nails.
I was able to look away and regain my bearings. I found the plastic cups. I found the rum. I found the gin and tequila. I found the vodka and triple sec. I scooped ice into the cups. I poured everything together and stuck a wedge of lemon on the rim of each cup. I had made it.
As I reached for two of the flimsy napkins, I decided I needed to say something or look like an idiot. What could I say? Something neutral but friendly. Nothing weird like usual. Without thinking too hard, I heard myself say, "Who's the other one for?"
The girl smiled and I felt my insides melt like warm butter. It was the most beautiful smile I'd ever seen, revealing little china-white teeth. "They're both for friends. I'm driving. Someone has to look out for the bride."
I nodded, staring blankly at the beauty before me. When the girl didn't move to take her drinks, I asked, "Who's the bride?"
She twisted around, craning her neck and standing on her tiptoes to see over the crowd. "The one with the white boa and the extra-god-awful tiara."
It lifted up to view the girl in question. "She looks young," I said, frowning. It was true, the bride didn't look older than twenty.
"I know," the girl said, rolling her eyes.
I gave her a blank nod of unthoughtful agreement, frozen again.
After a second, the girl flicked her wrist an inch, bouncing the twenty-dollar bill towards me. "Do you want this or are these free tonight?"
I shook my head, eyes widening at my own stupidity. I had heard of tragically beautiful people, but not people who made me feel this dumb. I had a Master's in neuroscience, after all. I wasn't exactly stupid. But this girl just threw me.
I blushed and took the bill from the girl's hand, being careful to avoid touching her. If I touched her, she might turn to dust, the illusion shattered by my clumsiness. I didn't want that to happen.
I looked back over at the bride, who was falling onto a taller blonde girl.
"I feel like she's too young to drink, let alone get married," I commented.
I have a problem, you see, and that was that I either say too much or not enough. It was like the bar strainer in my brain didn't work quite right. It'd been run through the high temperature dishwasher too many times, and now it was warped, and everything came out lumpy or too runny.
Luckily the girl ordering didn't seem to mind my frankness. She seemed amused by it. "Oh, she is. On both counts, even though she's twenty five." She smiled, a little longer than most girls as she picked up the drinks. "Keep the change," she said, letting her gaze flit down to my cleavage for a moment before she turned back to her gaggle of drunk flamingo princesses.
Had I imagined that? Imagined those dark, shiny eyes swooping down my neckline into my shirt? The girl was so beautiful and so polished, she didn't seem like the type. Girls like her were usually attached to some scruffy hipster or startup entrepreneur, not ogling female bartenders at a fag bar.
I shook my head, trying to focus on serving the next customer. As my hands flipped and measured the alcohol in my thirtieth Long Island of the night, I arched up on my toes to see if I could spot the group of girls on the dance floor. I saw their feathers and plastic tiaras and a few faceless heads, but I didn't see the girl who had come up to order.
I was so preoccupied with my phone, I almost didn't notice that Dr. Turner happened to be the only other person in the elevator with me. He was brilliant, to say the least, and being in his presence inspired me. Part of not making mistakes in life was not letting opportunities pass you by, right? This had to be an opportunity of some sort.
As we sank towards the lobby, I was aware my time for conversation was running out. I racked my brain for something to say. "How did you become interested in neuroscience's role in attachment?" I said, opting for academic discussion, which was always safest.
Dr. Turner looked at me with a polite smile, though I doubt he recognized me from the lecture he'd just given. "When I was at Cal I connected with a professor who was doing some of the primary studies on neuroscience and attachment. I liked that it was uncharted territory and asked if I could help with his research, and it just went from there."
He was so suave and casual about it. I wanted him to keep talking.
"That must have been exciting. Your current work sounds fascinating, too. I liked that you gave focus to paternal attachment in your presentation; everyone focuses on the mother."
Dr. Turner flashed me a tight-lipped smile as the bell dinged, signaling we had reached the ground floor, and my opportunity to talk to him was over.
"Thank you." He gave me a polite nod before stepping out into the foyer of the building.
I saw something flutter from his pocket.
"Oh, Dr. Turner," I called. "You dropped something."
Dr. Turner turned around as I bent to pick up a twenty-dollar bill. I looked at him through my lashes as I stood up and offered the bill to him.
"Thank you," he said. "Most people wouldn't be so honest."
I shrugged, still holding out the twenty. "It's not my money."
Dr. Turner studied my face for a moment before taking the money from my hand. "Are you in your final semester here?"
"Do you have a plan for after graduation?"
Dr. Turner reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, handing me his business card. My heart raced. "I have an opening in my lab for an assistant if you'd be interested in interviewing."
I could feel my face grow warm and I was sure I was blushing a little. "Sure... Yeah, definitely!"
Dr. Turner gave me another polite nod and turned to go, leaving me in a swirl of my own thoughts. Had that really just happened? Did a job opportunity with a painfully handsome man really fall into my lap like that?
I gushed to Justine about it over a bottle of red wine that night. "Justine, if I get this, it will take care of so much of my anxiety. I mean, if I have a job job? That's just... amazing. And Dr. Turner is just... I can't even describe him. He's probably the sexiest scientist to walk the planet."
Justine smiled over the rim of her glass, patient with my adoration, and happy for me.
"Do you know anything about the company?" she asked.
I felt a pang of guilt when I had to admit that I didn't. I vowed to browse their website the next day and learn more about it. And I did. There was nothing striking or alarming about the company, so I moved forward. In hindsight, I probably should have Googled the company.
I called the number on Dr. Turner's business card on Monday. I was surprised that a woman answered the phone, but I shouldn't have been. Obviously Dr. Turner is a busy man, and his lab would have a receptionist. The receptionist scheduled me for an interview, using what could only be described as a fatigued drone of prompted script, and promptly hung up. Everything about our conversation contradicted my excitement. I was applying for a big-girl job, and everyone I knew would be proud of me if I got it.
The interview went at most interviews go. Dr. Turner and a balding man with wiry glasses and a bad haircut looked over my résumé and asked me generic questions about my strengths and areas for growth and career aspirations. The balding man asked how well I worked with others and what my preferred management style was. Afterwards Dr. Turner gave me a handshake and nod that told me nothing about the outcome. So a few days later when his assistant called and offered me the job, I was thrilled. My parents and friends and professors were proud of me, proclaiming they had always known I'd find something in my field right away. And for a few minutes, I was proud of myself too.
But working for Dr. Turner was tedious. I was doing tasks far below my education and training level. All day I ran statistics and double-checked data, which anyone with half a mathematical brain could have done. I didn't get to participate in any of the lab work, which made my title of Lab Assistant painfully ironic. I didn't even know the passcode to the laboratory section of the building. Since we used animal subjects for some of our studies, the codes could only be given out to people directly conducting the research, because we didn't want animal rights activists releasing the worms and rats and mice we housed in the lab and ruining millions of dollars and years of research. I wasn't thrilled about the fact that the company used animals for research, but I never saw the subjects themselves, so it was easier to forget about. Plus, I'd be lying if I said that studying worms bothered me. It didn't. If we'd had monkey or rabbits or something, I would have struggled more.
My sister kept reminding me that a job was a job, and I'd do more interesting things eventually. So I tied my hair in a bun every morning, not thinking too much about the slacks and blouses I wore under my lab coat, and spent the next twelve months filing and documenting and running reports for Dr. Turner. And it wouldn't have been bad, if I were a person who liked dull things. But the fact is that I dislike dull things intensely, and therefore dreaded the moment my alarm clock went off every morning. I dreaded doing my hair in the same style. And most of all, I dreaded having to see Dr. Turner's handsome face every day, knowing that he would never be interested in me.
Not that Dr. Turner wouldn't have liked me in some alternate universe where he dated smart, ambitious women. But he didn't. He was a confirmed bachelor, which I knew was code for gay or womanizer. And considering the way he looked at his secretary's ass, my bets were on the latter.
On the days when Dr. Turner's assistant was out, I was assigned to the phones. I dreaded it. No one with a Master's in neuroscience should be assigned to answer phones. And yet I was. I repeated my sister's words: it's a job, it's a job, it's a job. There was a future for me. Dr. Turner had great contacts. I had insurance and a 401k. I had everything that made me certifiably boring.
One day when I was assigned to answer phones, I decided to play a game of making up stories about all the people who called. I sometimes did that while I watched people at the mall. The first call of the day was from a research lab in Tucson, which I decided was researching a new, more efficient formula for making beef jerky. In reality it was a neuroscience company, and beef jerky would be irrelevant unless it was run by zombies. I was just bored out of my mind and found it amusing. The following call was from a man named Steve from the payroll service Dr. Turner's company used. I imagined Steve moonlighted as a go-go dancer, and that he sat in his office making go-go playlists in order to get through is days, and his greatest fear was being recognized by one of his coworkers. The third call of the day was from a woman who didn't identify herself with an organization, just introduced herself as Violet. Something about her voice sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't place it. It echoed through my head throughout the day, until finally my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked Dr. Turner.
But that proved to be a mistake, because no sooner has I said, "Dr. Turner? Who's Violet?"
He frowned and crossed his arms. "Why do you want to know?"
I realized I had overstepped, and made up an excuse. "Oh, uh, I lost the call slip and wanted to make sure her call got returned. So... yeah. She called."
Dr. Turner gave me a stiff nod and turned back to his computer. "Thank you."
I stood in the doorway until I realized he wasn't going to say anything more. I let out an inaudible sigh and went back to the front desk, flopping into the rotating chair, feeling it bounce under the weight of my boredom.
No sooner had the chair steadied from bouncing, then the intercom on my phone rasped on. "Brittany, could you come here for a moment?" Dr. Turner asked.
I flushed cold, wondering if my offense had been bigger than I thought. But when I walked into his office a moment later, he handed me a slip of paper without making eye contact.
"Give that woman a call. Tell her you'll do the interview."
"What interview?" I asked, frowning.
"She wants to interview someone from the lab. You'll do."
I tried to brush off Dr. Turner's minimizing "you'll do" as I went back to my desk. I looked at the paper. On it was a woman's name and a phone number.
A few days later, I arrived ten minutes early at the coffee shop where Santana Lopez of The Chronicle and I had planned to meet. Arriving ten minutes early was fifteen minutes out of character for me. In college I had resigned myself to the fact that I was one of those people who was always running five minutes late, ten on a bad day. I tried not to feel guilty about it, because I knew it was because I was always trying to squeeze things in at the last minute. Of course I could reply to one more email before I had to leave. I had time to change my earrings and my shoes. I had time to slice up an apple and pack it in my purse for lunch. I was always fitting last-minute things into my day, and the result was that I was always a few minutes late. So the fact that I arrived ten minutes early to meet Ms. Lopez was strange. I felt good, but also bad, as though I were misrepresenting myself to this woman.
When she arrived three minutes late, I was stunned by how beautiful she was. Her hair was perfectly pulled back into a bun and her makeup was impeccable. Her blouse was perfectly starched and her pencil skirt looked like it had been tailored to her body. She was younger than I thought she would be. Suddenly I was intimidated. What would I have to say that would be interesting to this sophisticated lady?
She looked around the coffee shop for a moment before I raised my hand. When she reached the table, I heard myself blurting, "Don't worry, I'm a five-minutes-late person too."
She looked confused, but took a seat. "I didn't think I was late."
"You're not!" I said, a bit too enthusiastically to sound convincing.
She looked at the clock on the wall and nodded.
Then we sat in silence. I realized I should have spent my thirteen minutes waiting thinking of things to talk about, because this was downright embarrassing.
She reached into her bag and pulling out a long, narrow recording device. She placed it on the table without ceremony and turned it on. "So, Miss Pierce, would you state your job for me?"
I was taken aback by the lack of introduction on Santana's part. Weren't we supposed to talk about what I was going to say? The direction of the article? I was caught off guard. "I'm an assistant at Turner Research Institute," I said.
"And how did you get into that?" she asked.
It was a dry question with an even dryer answer. I'd liked neuroscience in college and decided to get a Master's in it because I didn't have a plan for after college. It was the answer I'd given at every social gathering I'd attended for the last three years and I was tired of it. So this time I answered the question differently.
"I was in an elevator and I said the right thing," I responded.
She looked up for the first time in our conversation. "Said the right thing?" she repeated. "To whom?"
"To my professor."
"Okay..." she said, looking down at her notes again with a shake of her head. "What would you say is the most exciting part of your job?"
In all honesty, I wanted to say payday. It was the day I paid off my credit card and picked up a gourmet salad for lunch instead of my prepacked sandwich or leftover lasagna. But that, again, was a boring answer. So I decided to play nice.
"Probably this interview," I said.
She looked up at me again. She paused, as if she wanted to ask more questions, but in the end she stuck to her original script. "Can you give me some insight into what it's like to be a woman in a male-dominated field?"
I tried not to roll my eyes at the question. "No better than you can."
She took her notes out of her lap, tossing them on the table in frustration. She didn't like the game I was playing. "Do you want to do this interview or not?"
I hadn't realized I'd be so bristly. "I do. But it seems like these questions are something I could have answered over email." I paused, taking a risk. "Do you want to do this interview?"
She bit her lip, looking at the recording device and its flashing red light. After a moment she clicked it off and lowered her voice from her journalistic façade. "Look, I get it," she said. "I know these interest pieces suck. I was assigned to this column because I'm a woman and the newspaper is doing a feature on sexism in the workplace. So please... just answer the questions so we can get out of here."
I was surprised by her candidness. Although she was still bristly, she was at least honest. That made me like her more than I expected.
"Okay. Let's try again," I said, nodding towards the recording device.
She gave me a relieved sigh and clicked it on. "So Miss Pierce, what's it like to be a woman in a male-dominated field?"
I thought for a second before I began to speak.
"When most people ask this question, they want to hear one of two things: that it's not a big deal and I'm just doing what I love, or that I've hit the glass ceiling and will spend the rest of my life pushing against it. But neither of those scenarios is interesting. Being a woman in my field is no different than being a woman in most fields. The strangest thing to me is when someone gives me a pat on the back for the kind of work I do, as if I'm somehow genetically different than other women for liking science. It's like having a vagina precludes me from liking certain things."
She smiled at my genuine response. "Do you get asked that a lot?"
"If having a vagina precludes me from liking things?"
She shook her head, trying not to laugh. "No, do you get asked how it is to be a woman in a male-dominated field often?"
"Oh. Yeah. Mostly women who want to engage in a deep socio-political discussion when I'm trying to enjoy a drink or a day in the park."
Her smile bloomed across her face. She clicked the recorder off and leaned forward.
"You're very pretty," she said, her words warm and hushed, as though it was a tasty secret.
I looked at the floor in discomfort. I never did know how to take compliments, especially sudden ones like this.
"Are you seeing anyone?"
I shook my head, trying to keep my shoulders from crumpling as I thought of Dr. Turner and his sexy swirling lab coat and how he never gave me more than stiff nod, and on Friday, he'd wish me a nice weekend. That was the closest thing I had to a boyfriend, which Justine told me was an absolute crime. I was in my prime, physically and sexually, and according to Justine, I was wallowing it away lusting after Dr. Turner, who thought I was as interesting as upholstery swatches.
It's funny, how other people's views of us inform us of who we are. Perhaps if I had been in a different job surrounded by different people, I would have seen myself differently. But I thought of myself as a carpet swatch, and a beige one at that. Beige without an interesting texture. Something that would compliment a nice piece of art or distract from the dirt. Purely functional, never decorative or exciting. Just like my underwear: plain cotton, white, nude, or black.
Suddenly, something behind the register crashed and shattered, the tinkling of broken glass echoing through the coffee shop. Everyone around us froze for a moment as the typically lackadaisical employees with their dreads and gauged orifices spun into a frenzy trying to clean up whatever had fallen. That doesn't go there! someone shouted furiously from behind a swinging door.
Ms. Lopez and I clapped our hands over our mouths, stifling laughter. Something about the suddenness of the crash, followed by the exclamation that whatever had broken had obviously been improperly placed, was hysterical. We shook with laughter for a few moments before we both settled.
Santana watched me for a moment longer before she said, "Would you like to have coffee some time? Without this," she said, nodding towards the recording device.
I found myself nodding. Not because I had actively contemplated seeing her again, but because she had that kind of command over me. She wasn't manipulative or threatening. She was merely confident and easy to go along with because she knew what she was doing.
She looked positively delighted, as if she didn't know the power she had over people. "Wonderful," she said, reaching into her purse to pull out her phone. "Can I get your cell number? I don't want to call you at work."
I recited the digits automatically, watching her manicured fingers transfer them into her phone. When she was done, she pressed a button and held the phone to her ear. After a few seconds, I startled when I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I felt stupid. I should have expected that. I shifted awkwardly to take out my phone, seeing the number with the 210 area code. I slid the call open and, looking her in the eyes, said, "Hello?"
She giggled and brought the phone away from her ear. "Now you have mine." She bent to pick up her purse strap, and I supposed we were done for the time being. "I'll call you soon," she said. "And I'll email you a copy of the article before it's published."
I nodded, wondering what on earth I'd have to contribute to the article she was writing. I had no idea why I'd been picked for the article in the first place, or why she wanted to spend time with me again. But I was okay with all of it, because it broke up my drab life.
That night I went home and found Justine on the couch in her Legalize Love tshirt, eating cruelty-free jellybeans.
"How was the interview?" she garbled, not taking her eyes off whatever documentary she was watching on PBS.
"It was nice," I said, realizing too late I put too much emphasis on the last word. It made me sound excited, although I supposed nothing about the interview had been interesting.
"Nice?" Justine asked, twisting to look at me.
I paused to take off my coat and hang it up before I offered, "I'm having coffee with the lady again."
"Oh yeah? More interview stuff?"
"No," I said. "Just to talk."
Justine seemed intrigued by my statement. "Is she hot?"
I frowned at Justine, but didn't answer the question.
"She's hot," Justine decided.
"So?" I said, defensive.
"So you should go for it," Justine said, wiggling her eyebrows. "Maybe if you brought your hot girlfriend to the office, Dr. Turner would notice and ask you for a ménage à trois."
I blushed crimson at the idea. "Justine, that's absurd."
"Guys like him dig lesbians."
"I'm not a lesbian."
"But Santana is."
I froze. "She is?"
Justine paused her chewing and gave me an amused expression.
I looked around, feeling as though I had missed something obvious.
"Oh, Britt..." Justine cooed, as though I were her daughter. "Are you ever going to learn to use Google?"
I ducked my head, feeling foolish.
"Have you read anything she's written?" Justine asked.
I shook my head, embarrassed.
"You should. She's good."
I bit my lips, afraid to ask. "Does she only interview lesbians?"
Justine burst out laughing. "Don't worry, she didn't trick you into liking pussy just because you sat for an interview."
The word pussy made me cringe, but I tried not to show it. I'd briefly dated a girl in college, but that had been my rebellious phase, before I settled down into grad school and being responsible. I still found women attractive – Santana Lopez especially – but I had long since written off relationships with them. It hadn't happened for me in the past, and I always pictured my future with a man, when I pictured it at all. It was the easiest thing to fit into my life.
Seconds later I realized something: Santana Lopez and I had plans to go out for coffee this weekend.
I had inadvertently agreed to go on a date with her.
But then it dawned on me: if I went out with her, I wouldn't be beige. I wouldn't even be an upholstery swatch. And that thought appealed to me very much.
The carpet of the elevator was worn, completely threadbare in sections. I studied it, wondering how many times it had traveled up and down the shaft of the building. I almost didn't notice that Dr. Turner happened to be the only other person in the elevator with me. But once I did, I spun into action.
Wanting to hear his sexy, deep voice when he responded, I racked my brain for something to say.
"That was a great lecture Dr. Turner."
I gave him a big smile. "The rest of the class enjoyed it too. They don't sit up as straight or pay as close attention to the regular professor."
"People are generally polite for guests," he said with a dismissive smile.
"I don't think that's what it was at all."
Dr. Turner flashed me a smile as the bell dinged, signaling we had reached the ground floor. I gave him a smile I realized was far too flirtatious for a student and professor, but it was over before I realized.
"Thank you." He gave me a polite nod before stepping out into the foyer of the building.
Thinking quickly, I stuck my hand in my pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. Bending over, I called after him. "Dr. Turner! You dropped something."
Dr. Turner turned around as I bent to pick up the bill. I looked up at him through my lashes as I stood up and offered it to him.
He contemplated it before taking it. "Most people wouldn't be so honest."
I shrugged, still holding out the twenty. "It's not my money."
Dr. Turner studied my face for a moment before taking the money from my hand. "Can I buy you a drink?
I shrugged with a smile. My plan had worked better than I thought. "Sure."
He smiled, the cat-like grin of a man who has gotten something he wanted. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
I thought about the whispers in the halls that had started after I'd gone out with Henry. How everyone in the program knew Brittany as the "easy" girl. I didn't want Dr. Turner to know that girl.
I have no idea why I picked that name, or why I didn't think what a bad idea it was to give a fake name to someone I was going on a date with. I just did it. Maybe it was because he made me feel like a new version of myself: someone powerful and in charge. I gave that person a name, and the only one I could think of at the time was Violet.
Dr. Turner took my number and we arranged to go out the following night.
He arrived at my apartment right on time and took me to a dive in the Castro. We had just been served our drinks when I felt him losing interest. When he was turned away, I surreptitiously unbuttoned the top of my blouse, knowing I had worn my best push-up bra. I leaned forward and made intense eye contact with him. For the rest of the meal, no matter if we were talking about neuroscience, baseball, or the weather, he didn't take his eyes off me.
When he invited me back to his place after, I decided to go with him. He was charming and handsome and, for most of the night, had been eying me as though I was a steak he wanted to eat. Now, being in a neuroscience program, I was used to that feeling. Most of my classmates were guys, and whenever I wore my tight-fitting yoga pants or a low-cut shirt, I got looked at a lot. Sometimes it was annoying, and sometimes it was flattering.
But my classmates were in the same boat I was in: homework, tests, loans, papers, and stress. Dr. Turner had moved past all of that. He was living the neuroscience dream. He owned his own research company, guest lectured at UCSF, and had money. It must be nice, to have money. I'd like to have some someday.
So when he invited me back to his place, I said yes. I wanted to see what my life could look like someday if I made it big like him. Was his furniture leather? Did he have framed art around his apartment? Did he have a walk-in closet with rows of perfectly starched shirts and shined loafers? I couldn't wait to see.
And of course, the promise of getting laid by someone who wasn't going to have leftover pizza for breakfast was pretty nice too.
His apartment was nice. Spacious, with large floor to ceiling windows on both sides overlooking Nob Hill. His bedroom was neat and clean, bordering on Spartan. But it worked for him. His bed was square and perfectly made. There was a single leather chair in the corner and a dresser with nothing on top. It was kind of Bond, to be honest. Minimalist, but so elegant. The hue of the wood was a deep burgundy, almost black. The room smelled clean and dark and sexy. I loved it.
"I'm really looking forward to this," Dr. Turner said with a slight quirk of his eyebrow. "You seem like a nice girl, Violet."
"Oh, I am," I said, giving him my best wicked grin.
"Hopefully not too good," he smirked.
"Only when I need to be," I flirted back.
"Do you want music or something?" he asked.
"Don't need any."
"How'd you get into this?" he asked, taking a seat in his chair and leaning down to remove his shoes.
I wasn't sure what he meant, but he was eying my waist, so I figured he was talking about my skirt or something. Feeling awkward, I made a Saturday Night Live reference. "Same as anyone. One leg at a time."
He sat up and gave me an amused smile. "All right, then," he said. "Care to show me what you've got?"
It wasn't exactly romantic. But I supposed it was better than playing a stupid game about when and how we were going to have sex. Obviously he wanted to, and it had been a long time since I'd gotten laid. I'd get to see him naked too, and if he wanted me to go first, that was fine by me. I knew I had a pretty rocking body.
I kept my playful smile on as I reached down, crossing my arms over my stomach to lift my shirt. I lifted it over my head, letting my hair bounce down onto my shoulders as I drew it away from my arms and locked my eyes with his again.
His grin grew wicked again and he leaned back.
I knew lots of men liked watching stripteases. I didn't mind watching them myself. My high school boyfriend loved to watch me undress, and had encouraged me to dance a little as I did. For his nineteenth birthday, I'd given him a lap dance while I stripped. It was sexy and playful and one of the best nights of our five-year relationship. I'd never stripped like that for anyone else. Damon was so sweet and respectful, he would never have asked me to strip again, even if he wanted me to.
But Dr. Turner was nothing like Damon. Clearly, since we were about to have sex on our first date, and he was asking me to give him a show. It was presumptuous of him, but I was proud I could deliver the goods. Hopefully he'd deliver in other areas in return.
I gave him a sexy smile as I found the zipper in my skirt and pulled it down, pressing my palms against my sides under the fabric as I slicked it down. I closed my eyes and imagined music playing, setting a rhythm.
Once my skirt was on the floor, I turned around and unsnapped my bra. It was a nice bra, though the cups were, shall we say, seriously enhanced. Not that there was anything wrong with that. But it was a little misleading, even if I was perfectly happy with the size of my tits. Most women under a D cup exaggerate anyway, just like most guys exaggerate the size of their packages. We're all trying to be bigger and better where it counts.
I dropped my bra on the ground and shimmied out of my panties. I was really glad I'd waxed recently. There's nothing worse than getting the opportunity to get laid and realizing you're not quite, um, prepared, and having to gracefully dodge the opportunity while keeping it open for the soonest possible rain check. But tonight was not one of those nights. I was going to get laid by the hottest professor I'd ever had.
I heard Dr. Turner rustling behind me and smiled to myself. He must have liked what he saw. I pumped my knees a few times, knowing it made my ass look amazing, especially in my heels, and then turned to see Dr. Turner leaning back with a lazy, fascinated smile on his face.
"Like what you see?" I asked flirtatiously
"I sure do," he mumbled. He licked his lips and tilted his head back before saying. "C'mere."
I walked over to him and bent over, letting my tits come near his face. "What did you have in mind?"
Dr. Turner looked my body up and down for a moment before saying, "Lie on the bed and touch yourself for me."
I was a bit surprised at that. He wasn't even going to kiss me?
Well, this night was different than most dates I'd been on already, so why not make sex different too? At least this way I could get myself warmed up and hopefully come before he did.
I turned back to his bed, noting its starched, square perfection, and feeling almost guilty as I sank onto it. I was messing it up.
But then again, nothing about sex is clean and square and poised. Sex is sweaty and unchoreographed. So I scooted back, taking a moment to kick off my heels, and gave him a playful scrunch of my nose as I fisted the sheets, ruining the placidness of the bed.
Then I spread my legs. The cool air felt good, and the way his eyes flew right to my center made me feel powerful. I had something he wanted, but he wanted me to tease him with it before anything else happened. Soon, Dr. Turner was hovering over me, slipping on a condom.
It wasn't any better or worse than sex usually was for me, which was disappointing, given that I'd worked my expectations up. Somehow I thought that sleeping with a professor, someone with a PhD and research lab, meant that the sex would be better than it had been when I slept with people my own age or achievement level. But Dr. Turner just pumped in and out, grunting, and closing his eyes most of the time.
I could only sigh in disappointment when he came before I did. I should have anticipated it and tried to make sure I got what I needed first. I could have asked him to do that thing with my nipples or rub my clit or something. I could have done more than lie there and pant beneath him, taking a few turns to ride on top. So when he came, I just sighed. That was that. It didn't occur to me to ask him to finish me or to take care of myself. It was just one of those things, and maybe if he wanted to see me again, it would be different. Hopefully.
So my first time with Dr. Turner wasn't very memorable. I was okay with that. I suppose most sex on the first date isn't memorable. I barely knew him, so there was no way I'd be able to know his body, or he mine.
But I distinctly remember what happened afterwards. He slipped out of me, pulling the condom off and knotting it, disappearing behind the wall that I assume concealed the bathroom. Then he came out and opened his dresser drawer, rummaging around for a moment. I lay on the bed, still on top of the white covers, breathing and looking at the ceiling, wondering why I'd gotten my expectations worked up and what I was doing here in the first place. Then he swaggered over the bed, having pulled on a pair of boxers, and tossed something next to my head.
"Thanks, doll. I'll give you a call soon."
I nodded, tilting my head to see what he'd tossed at me, but I couldn't see it because it was concealed by some of the duvet I'd made such a show of wrinkling. Without engaging in any more eye contact, Dr. Turner walked out of the room with that I-just-got-laid swagger, leaving me alone with my slowing breath and the stark quietness.
I propped myself up on my elbows so I could see what was next to me on the bed. When I saw the roll of crisp twenties, I was dumbstruck.
Dr. Turner had given me money.
Lots of money.
Dr. Turner had just paid me for sex.
Did he think I was…
No. There was no way.
Had I done or said something that made him think I was for hire?
I wracked my brain, thinking of all the things I had said and done that might have led him to believe I was interesting in something besides dating. Sex, sure, but being paid for sex? That had never even crossed my mind.
Then I realized. Dr Turner had just paid me for sex.
Dr. Turner thought I was a prostitute.
I sat up, pulling my knees to my chest. What had I done? What kind of situation had I gotten myself into?
Where I came from in Michigan, only desperate women sold their bodies, and that was usually at a club with a pole and a DJ or in a dingy motel next to a Denny's or Waffle House. There were no folds of money tossed on nice sheets like this.
I felt so young and so naive, and mostly, so, so stupid. I closed my eyes and felt tears start to sting for a minute.
Dr. Turner had never been interested in dating me. He'd only wanted to sleep with me, and the whole going-out-for-a-drink-first had just been a pretense, to see if I was crazy or inclined towards prostitution or who knows what. It was degrading and horrible and I wanted to shrink into my own sweaty, dirty skin and hide.
But I wasn't going to cry in his house. I wasn't going to leave any more of my dignity here than I'd entered with. If I had to cry, I'd wait until I was home with the door to my room closed so Justine wouldn't see and ask too many questions.
But then I looked down at the money and got curious. How much did this pretentious asshole think I deserved for sleeping with him? Hopefully a decent amount. I looked at the money, still appalled, but also intrigued.
I had to know what I was worth.
I poked at the thick fold of twenties. It looked threatening, like a small animal playing dead until I was close enough to attack, when it would spear me with its razor claws and fangs. But it didn't spring to life. It rested against the sheets, lifeless.
I picked it up and started counting.
One hundred. Two hundred. Three hundred. Four hundred. Five hundred.
Five hundred dollars.