The Stand In: Version 2

I started this story a while ago. I thought I’d ended it and then today I realized I hadn’t; that there was another voice in the story. It needed balance.

The shoulders were about right, she thought. The height – perhaps he was an inch or two shorter – but that didn’t matter for much. Weight is something she’d never been good at estimating but perhaps this man was carrying just a little more muscle than was ideal.

Giving her drink a clockwise quarter turn, its thick base rumbled as it slid over the slightly uneven surface of the wood.

At least he was dark haired and eyed. Had he been blond, he wouldn’t have served her purpose at all. And there was no question he was unattached, at least for the evening. No woman at his side, no ring on his finger and, were that not enough, there was the vaguely predatory look in his eyes. Not that it would have mattered in the least had he been married. Charlotte was not shopping for commitment. His eyes, more than anything else, told her that, on being approached, she would not be rejected.

With the lassitude of someone who has a necessary but unpleasant job to do, she stood up, wove her way between the busy tables, and took the stool next to his at the bar.

Up close, her determination wavered. Small details jarred with her requirements and she considered the wisdom, the ethics, the coldness of her plan. His hands weren’t right. They were too delicate and their slightly ragged cuticles spoke of a nervousness that put her off.

But then he smiled. White, white teeth set off against a tanned face. The curve of his muscular back where the neat pale blue shirt tucked into his belted chinos. Maybe it would be enough, she thought.

And then the dance began. The way it always does and always will. The politeness that leads to the warm hint of innuendo. The light laughter about a light subject. The signs and symbols, the glance and the word that pairs any prospective couple to one another and separates them from the crowd.

Someone had trained him well. He listened far more than he spoke. And because of this – because she was waiting so intently to hear that indefinable thing that would either set her on her course or cause her to politely take her leave – there were some uncomfortable silences.

Without being obvious, she leaned in to the conversation, estimating the angle of his vision and its relation to the swell of her cleavage. Her head tilted artfully with the express purpose of exposing the length of her bare neck, so her hair brushed with demure invitation over her collarbone.

With the next sentence, his too-delicate fingers reached across the expanse of wood and brushed over the back of her hand. His knee nudged her stockinged thigh. And in a moment of self-consciousness, he drained the liquid in his glass, fixed his gaze to hers and said, “Wow. You’re very beautiful, you know that?”

It would have been so much better had she been able to feel that natural swell of pride, followed almost predictably in women, by a need to attempt false modesty. But Charlotte didn’t feel it. She didn’t care if she was beautiful or if he thought she was. All at once she knew she could no longer sustain this pretense. She would either have to be honest about what she was after, or accept that she wasn’t capable of following through. Draining her own drink, she gave him a kittenish smile – the kind calculated to assure a man that she was as far from being a threat as anything possibly could be.

“Come here,” she murmured. “I want to make you a proposition.”

His eyebrows – which really were far, far too sparse – arched flirtatiously. “A proposition? Now that sounds interesting.” He bent forward, their faces almost touching and let her bring her lips up to his ear.

“Do you want to fuck me?”

For a moment, he said nothing. A noise that was uncomfortably too close to a giggle broke from his throat as he pulled back and looked, not into her face, but at some unspecified row of bottles at the back of the bar. “Um… well, yes. I guess I do.”

“You guess you do? Or you do?” She forged seriousness into her tone. And beneath the words lurked the subtextual warning that she wasn’t tolerant of adolescent behavior in a man.

“I do.” He locked his eyes to hers, sensing that the offer might easily evaporate. “I definitely do.”

“Good. Now here’s the deal: I want to fuck you and pretend you’re someone else. I don’t want you to say another word, because you don’t sound like him. Can you do that?”

He furrowed his brow and laughed again. This time it wasn’t a giggle. He was trying to figure out if he should be offended. “You’re joking, right?”

“No. I’m dead serious. Can you do it?”

“Do I look like this other guy?”

“Yes, superficially.” This wasn’t going the way she planned. She shook off the implications of the question. “Look, do you want to fuck or not?”

Yet another laugh. If he kept this up, she was going to have to leave.

“Sure. I…guess….Yes. You’re hot.”

“Fine. Then just don’t say anything else.” She forced a friendliness into her voice that she was sure sounded false. “We go up to your room. I give you the best blowjob you have ever had. We fuck. Everyone’s happy. Okay?”

His eyes narrowed “Are you a…pro? Because I don’t pay for it. I’ve never paid for it.” The words came out in a rushed mixture of offense and embarrassment.

“No. It’s absolutely free. No strings at all. I just get to pretend you’re someone else. In order to do that, you have to shut up.” Her patience and her courage were both wearing thin. “Can you do that?”

* * *

He kissed her in the elevator. Perhaps because he had begun to find the idea liberating. She closed her eyes and tried to shut out all the sensations that didn’t seem right. He was tentative and gentle.

In the sterile hotel room behind the closed door, she could feel his desire growing, for stuttered moments she forced the idea of him, of his scent, of his touch into the thing she wanted it to be.

With her blouse off, on her knees, she undid his pants and unzipped him, pulling out a nicely proportioned, usefully erect cock, and set to work doing what Charlotte knew she did very well.

It throbbed against her tongue; it lurched as she drew the length of it into her mouth. She closed her eyes and began to suck. And she was there – where she wanted to be – pleasuring the only man in the world she cared for.

Blindly, she reached for his hand and pulled it to her head, urging him to get a grip of her hair.

His hand was gentle. His hips didn’t thrust. He would not take from her what she was offering. The cruelty of the real crept up her chest and closed her throat. His scent wasn’t right. The taste was wrong, too. Where was the urgent quiver of coiled pleasure in his hips? Where was the dark, deep growl that should slide down her spine as he breached her throat?

This wasn’t right. This was flaccid, sluggish convenience. Good natured, casual consummation. It was not him. It would never be him. Nothing in the world would make it him. No trick, no silence, no amount of alcohol, no suspension of disbelief. And, to her utter horror, the poor bastard she was using with such spectacular lack of success realized that something was amiss.

“Hey, baby,” he said, sounding as gentle as a man with his cock down a woman’s throat can ever sound. “What’s wrong?”

She gripped the base of his cock and finished him off as fast as she knew how. It took her less than three minutes to make him come, pull on her shirt, button it and get out of the room.

As she stood at the banks of elevators, fighting down her tears and jabbing repeatedly at the call button, he stepped out of the room.

“What the fuck did I do wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing.”

“Then why the hell are you leaving?”

The doors to the elevator whispered open with a demure chime that sounded at once polite and impatient. She stepped in and closed her eyes until the doors slid closed.

“You’re not him.”

* * *

As the elevator began to descend, she pushed the stop button.

In the unflattering lighting and the cruel mirror of the elevator wall, she pulled a tissue from her purse and repaired the bleeding black stain of mascara that crept below her lower lids. She folded a stick of gum into her mouth to get rid of his taste, and drew a coat of new lipstick on top of the stained skin still smeared with a stranger’s semen.

Only then did Charlotte notice the tinny alarm, demanding that she release the elevator and allow it to continue downwards. The sensation of descent jarred her numbness. It reminded her too much of what it felt like peer over a cliff into a bottomless abyss. She forced herself to stare at the floor indicator above the door and count them aloud. Timing her utterances precisely to the soft chimes as each floor passed.

The lobby was shadowed and almost empty as she stepped out of the lift. Why hadn’t she simply gone to her room? And then she remembered. A drink. She needed a drink. Several. Lots. Enough to shut her brain down and sleep the sleep of the dead.

Just as she turned in the direction of the bar, someone caught her arm.  She pivoted on the culprit and, in that moment, the rage inside her was monstrous. All consuming. Barely controllable.

“Wait a minute.”

It was him. He of the reluctant blow-job. God damn it, she thought.

“What do you want?”

“Whoah. Jesus, lady.”

She inhaled and swallowed and straightened her back. “What. Do. You. Want?” she enunciated.

“An apology.”

“For treating me like…” His eyes slid sideways as he searched for the word.

“A whore?”

He considered a moment. “Yes, I guess so. Like a whore.”

“You had your blow-job. You got your orgasm. What’s the problem?’

“Fuck,” he said, standing back, releasing her arm. “You’re a piece of work, you know that?”

“Wasn’t I clear about what I was after?”

He stared at her. Unmoving. Not speaking.

“Wasn’t I?” Charlotte demanded, louder than she intended.  “Fuck, I need a drink.”

“You need way more than one drink, lady,” he said.

But she’d already turned towards the bar. Her heels clicking like flint on the polished granite of the lobby floor.

* * *

She was well into her second martini when she felt someone jostle her side and slip onto the stool next to her. Charlotte glanced unsteadily at her neighbor, little more than a hazy white blob, in the blue tinted mirror behind the bar.

“I’ll have a…. Glenlivet on the rocks… and another of whatever she’s drinking.” The man said to the bartender.

Charlotte tilted her head to look at the owner of the voice.  “No. Not you again.”

“Me again,” he said, nodding a thanks as the bartender slid his drink in front of him.

It was too late. She was too drunk.  “Please,” she whispered,  “Just fuck off.”

He took a sip of his drink and then, noticing a fresh martini had arrived, pushed it over to her, careful not to let the clear liquid slop over the rim of the glass. He spoke quietly. “You know, that was the most dehumanizing experience of my life.”

Eyeing the full glass, Charlotte nodded. “It probably was. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. You were absolutely right. You made your offer very clear.”

She let the tainted vodka sit on her tongue until it burned and then swallowed it. “So why did you accept?”

“I guess I just wanted to get laid.”

They were silent for a moment.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he continued. “I’ve had my share of meaningless, casual sex. But that…” He took another sip of his drink. The ice cubes glazed his upper lip. “That was something else.”

She turned her gaze back to the glinting row of bottles behind the bar. “I said I was sorry.”

He sighed. Folded his arms on the bar top. “So, tell me about him.”

“Who?”

“Him. The guy you wanted me to be.”

There was a deadly, rusty ache gnawing into the back of her skull. All she really wanted to do was allow the void to swallow her up. She was sorry. It was obvious this guy was hurt. And he wasn’t a bad sort of person. It was too easy to imagine what it would have felt like to be treated the way she’d treated him. She felt a prickle behind her eyes and blinked it away. “It doesn’t matter.”

“He matters to you.”

Charlotte just shook her head.

“Why are you picking up strangers instead of fucking him?”

She cradled her head in her fisted hands. “He won’t have me.”

“Why’s that?”

Breathing deep, she picked up the glass and sipped. Her hand unsteady. Liquid slithered over the edges.

“Is he unavailable? Married? Gay? In prison? Dead? What?”

Swiveling on the bar stool, she looked at him, trying to focus her eyes.  “He’s not real.”

The man looked at her, then tilted his head and blinked. “Excuse me?”

“He’s not real.”

His face crinkled into a puzzled smile. “Well, he’s damn real to you, lady.”

“Charlotte. My name’s Charlotte.”

“Steven. Kinda late to shake hands, I guess.”

Even through the encroaching misery of a premature hangover, she could she the humour in that. “Yeah, kind of late.”

“So…” Steven thought for a moment. “This guy – he’s a figment of your imagination?”

“Pretty much.”

“I don’t believe it. I think he’s real. He’s gotta be real. You don’t strike me as completely psycho. A bitch, yeah. But not totally off your rocker.”

She shrugged. The movement made her stomach lurch. “I honestly don’t know. Maybe he’s a bit of both. Anyway,” she said, easing herself carefully off the stool and rummaging in her purse for her wallet. “It’s late. I’m drunk. I’m sorry.”

“I’ll get this,” said Steven.  He motioned the bartender over and slid some bills across to him.

Charlotte tried to smile at him, but perhaps it came out looking strange. “Thank you.”

“Are you staying at the hotel?” he asked, taking what felt like a paternal grasp of her upper arm.

“Yup.”

“I’ll see you to your room.”

They walked across the deserted lobby and waited at the bank of elevators.

“What floor?” he asked, artfully steering her into the nearest one.

“Oh… god. Um… 22, I think.”

He pressed the button and they rode up in silence.  Charlotte swallowed down the nausea as the vertigo gripped at her guts. She fished her card key out of her purse and squinted at the number on the neatly branded paper pocket. “22015″.

“I’m sorry about your guy,” he muttered as he half-led her, have pointed her down the long, vapid corridor.

They stopped when they reached the door to her room.  She made a sloppy attempt to pat him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry. I just can’t fuck you. I just can’t do it.”

Steven shook his head and took her card key from her, deftly inserted it into the slot, and pushed the door open. “Lady, I wouldn’t fuck you if you were the last woman on earth.”

Charlotte gazed at him and nodded. The tears began to spill over her cheeks.  “I really don’t blame you. Good night.”

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