I got out of the water and went to the cabana, which was really a sultan’s tent, white and tangerine. It went well with my pullover. I sat down to dry my legs.
He followed me. “ I wasn’t kidding about the watch. I really want you to have it.”
“Steady, playboy. Stay in your lane.” Yes, I was being flip, because I did not want to be mean. But I did not want to owe this meatball anything. He took it the wrong way. He took it as a challenge. I had become a challenge.
He sat down on the wicker couch. “And a tousand.”
“A thousand what.”
“You know,” he whispered. “Dollars.”
“Fuck you.” We were so outtahere. I stood up. Carissa and Michael were in a hot tub near the other end of the pool.
I looked around. That way led back to the bar–
“Wait,” he said. “You don’t understand.”
“No, I’ve got it perfect.”
“That’s not it.”
“You can’t treat me like meat, I haven’t done a god damn thing to make you think you can treat me like that.”
“That’s it. That’s why.”
“I wouldn’t offer all this to a . . . woman who would—”
“Whore, you’re trying to say.”
He didn’t move, just sat there staring up at me.
I had no moral objection to fucking him. Aesthetic objection, I had. But that was all irrelevant. I was in danger, now. A whirlwind of emotions was flitting around in my chest, having to do with something that my seducer could not imagine. Amanda.
I had known Amanda all my life. Two years ago this summer, she went to Vegas with her boyfriend. He was a drug dealer and he had made a big score and they went to Vegas to celebrate. And after a crazy night they had a crazy argument and he shot her, accidentally, but dead just the same. It was a pointless, almost random death that seemed to want to make her whole life seem pointless as well. But no one’s life is pointless, which is why this incident was so painful for her family and her friends, including me. Ever since then I have walked on eggshells in unknown social situations. And I have cleaved to the straight way. Obsessively. Today I had let down my guard a little, and look how it ended up. With this peachfuzz gangster who offered money with one hand, and might have a gun in the other. It was not that I feared for my virtue. I feared for my life.
He grabbed his gym bag and looked in. His hand came out with money. He put a little packet of bills on the couch next to him. It was held together with a spring clip. He put another one on top of it. “Two.”
“You’ve got the stink of drug money all over you,” I said. I waved to Carissa at the other end of the pool. She seemed to look at me but did not move.
“Three,” he said.
I felt my legs tremble. Much as I wanted to leave, I could not move. I sat down on one of the lounges that faced the pool. I was no longer angry about being thought a whore, or afraid of being killed. I believed he really meant what he said. In his mind it was all perfectly ordered. He was buying purity. I am not Purity. “You still don’t get it. I don’t want anything you’ve got, cuz you are trouble. And I don’t want no more of it.”
“What will it take? Five thousand, and all I want to do is sniff cocaine off your naked breast.”
I was so shocked at what he said, that I began to cry. Now I was really afraid. Now we were entering into a kind of depravity I had never experienced. I could see the lust in his eyes. I know boys. He would not stop with that. Once they get started they hate to stop.
“What’s the matter?” he said.
I took a deep breath. “You said you want me because I’m not a whore, and then you want to treat me like one. And you don’t know anything about me. Or care.”
“You’re right. I don’t know about you. I don’t know your story. And if that means that I don’t care about you, then I guess that’s true. But I do care about you. I admire you. You have grace, and beauty, and charm, like the ancient queens. You are a star. I don’t need you for sex. I can have unlimited sex whenever I want. This is just a little fun little thing. To show my admiration for your beautiful body.”
I looked around. I thought about the money. I thought about dignity. And honor. Just words, aren’t they. Charm and grace are also words.
“Count it out,” I said.