“I’m telling you, she’s the best art teacher there is. She knows everything!” A young woman in her early twenties with ratted dyed black hair and heavy raccoon eyes gushes to her friend who is so nondescript, I barely notice her. “If Moira says it’s true, then it is.”
“That’s bullshit, Brenda,” the other woman says heatedly, her face flushing. Her shoulder-length mousy brown hair falls in her eyes no matter how many times she brushes it back. She finally gives up and peers at her friend from behind a veil of hair. “She’s a charlatan who gives good mouth. Her stuff is crap, and her advice is crap.” Her hands are clenched into fists, and her receding chin is thrust out as far as she can. “The bitch thinks she’s all that.”
“You’re so wrong, Tansy,” Brenda says earnestly, touching her friend on the arm. Tansy? I have never heard a more inappropriate name. Dorcas, maybe. Or perhaps Zelda, but not Tansy. “Moira really cares about people’s talent. She talked to me for fifteen minutes about my charcoal sketches in the caf one day. She didn’t have to do that.”
“She probably just wants to shag you,” Tansy says cruelly, her face a dark red. I watch in fascination at the scene developing. “You know her reputation, right? She likes them young and stupid.”
“Is that why you slept with her?” Brenda shoots back, her own face pinking. “You certainly fit the stupid part, though you’re no longer young.” The two of them glare at each other, and I’m wondering if I should step in.
“Here you go,” Emil smiles, holding out a glass. “Rum and coke, just as you ordered.” I accept it from him and take a sip, choking as I do. It is definitely not as I would order, being heavy on the run and nonexistent on the coke. “Oh dear, what are those two young women arguing about?”
“Moira,” I say simply. I’m beginning to think that everyone has a Moira story to tell. I recall the sway of her hips as she saunters around the room. I think about the curve of her lips as she smiles, dreaming about kissing those lips. I stop. Where have I seen her before? For the life of me, I can’t remember.
“—Don’t you think?” Emil is looking at me, but I haven’t the slightest idea of what he has said. Noticing my befuddled look, he repeats himself. “I said, Moira is going to get herself in trouble one of these days, don’t you think?” He’s shaking his head, but he can’t keep the gleam out of his eyes. He is looking forward to the day Moira gets in trouble. He is hoping that he’ll be there to witness it. Slightly sickened, I drain half my drink.
“There you are, hon!” Paris exclaims as he breezes up to me and Emil. “Emil! How the hell are you? How’s academic life?”
“Tedious, Paris,” Emil says with a smile. “I am taking a sabbatical next year, and not a moment too soon. Nobody cares about true learning any more. The students only want to know what’s ‘relevant’ to life.” He twists his lips in distaste before smoothing them out again.
“Great! Then you’ll be able to put in more time at the gym.” Paris nudges Emil in the ribs. Emil winces at the gesture.
“I certainly need it.” Emil pats his stomach contentedly before sipping at his drink. “We were just talking about Moira’s proclivities.”
“You mean for hitting on her protégés?”
“That and anyone else she fancies.” Emil’s smile is sour, though his tone is light. “Those she doesn’t seduce, she merely toys with.”
“She’s not that bad,” Paris protests. “She just has a high libido. If she were a guy, nobody would say anything about it. I keep telling her she needs to spend more time in the gym.”
“Paris, that’s your answer to everything!” I say with mock-exasperation. Even when he is on his high-horse, he is still the best damn friend I’ve ever had.
“I cannot believe that girl!” Max storms up to us, breathing smoke. “She was the one who insisted we have a party tonight. She’s the one who went all-out with the food and the incense and shit. Yet she’s the one locked up in our bedroom refusing to answer! Go figure!”
“You sure she’s all right?” Paris says with mild alarm.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Max snarls. “She probably has one of her bimbos in there with her for a quick fuck.”
“Come on, Max,” Paris scoffs. “Even Moira wouldn’t be that insensitive.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Max retorts. “I need to smoke.” She whips out a cigarette and starts smoking. “Moira doesn’t like me to smoke inside, but fuck her.” She flicks ashes on the floor and continues to smoke. I wince at the thought of what the ashes would do if they land on the Asian carpet.
“Max, calm down,” Emil says soothingly, rubbing Max’s arm. She doesn’t seem appeased by the gesture. I surreptitiously look at my watch. It’s after midnight, and I’m ready to leave.
“Paris, I have to be somewhere in the morning, remember?” I say sweetly, giving Paris the look. “Right now, I have to call my mother.” That is our code for ‘I need to get the fuck out of here now.’ We had made a pact early in our college days that we would honor it when the other uttered this phrase. Paris doesn’t look like he wants to, but he reluctantly gives in.
“Max, we gotta jet. Rayne turns into a pumpkin if we keep her out much past midnight.” Paris’s tone is light, but he’s giving me the evil-eye. I’ll find some way to make it up to him.
“So soon? The night is just beginning.” The look Max gives Paris is more than just client to trainer. It’s a ‘ditch the friend and stay the night’ kind of look, one that Paris is adept at dealing with.
“Sorry. Rayne has a thing in the morning. She’s so busy, that girl.” Paris air-kisses Max again, careful not to get to close. Max pulls her to him and gives him a full-body hug, her hand lingering behind him just below his waist. Paris disentangles himself with grace.
“Where is Moira?” Max says crossly. “I can’t believe she hasn’t come out of the bedroom yet. I’m sure she’ll want to say goodbye to you.”
“Oh, don’t trouble her,” I stay Max who looks as if she’s going to hunt Moira down. “Just let her know that I’ll give her a call sometime next week.”
“She’ll definitely be looking forward to that,” Max says snidely, no longer able to control her antipathy for me. That’s ok. The feeling is more than mutual.
“Emil, it was very nice talking to you,” I say, holding my hand out to him. I am not merely being polite. He’s a font of information, and a gentleman to boot.
“Likewise.” Emil bends over my hand and kisses it; I am charmed.
After more meaningless goodbyes, Paris and I finally escape to his car. Neither of us say a word as he starts it up and points us home. I let out a sigh of relief as I slump in the passenger’s seat. I am not a party person at the best of times, and this is definitely not one of them. I hope that Paris is not upset with me for wanting to jet, but I couldn’t stay there another minute. What with Max player-hating me and Moira trying to put the moves on me, I didn’t know what to do. Plus, Max was getting too close to Paris. I know he’s not my boyfriend, but it was disgusting to watch, really. I crack the window, in desperate need of some fresh air. The wind feels good in my hair.
“You have got to lighten up, girlfriend,” Paris finally speaks after we’ve been driving for a bit. “I don’t know why with your sparkling wit, you’re not the life of the party.”
“I can’t stand them, Paris,” I complain. “They are so damn boring. Politics, who’s sleeping with whom, cattiness. Who needs it?”
“Well, it looks as if you were making a friend there right before we left. When’s the date?”
“He wasn’t hitting on me. He was just a lonely old man who wanted to talk.”
“He’s not that old, Rayne. Early fifties, most likely.”
“Old enough! Definitely not date material. He dished the dirt about Max and Moira.” I recount what Emil had told me about their relationship and about Moira in general.”
“I think that’s sexist,” Paris frowns. “Like I said, a guy sleeps around and he’s a stud. A woman does it, and she’s a slut. What’s up with that?”
“You sound like a feminist there, Paris,” I tease. “Careful, or I might put you to work marching against sweatshops and stuff like that.”
“I just don’t get it. So Moira sleeps around. So what?”
“I don’t know,” I say slowly. “I think it’s more than that. I heard more than one female bitching about Moira’s dating practice. I think she fucks with their minds as well as their bodies.”
“They let her,” Paris says angrily, taking his eyes off the road for one heart-stopping moment. “She’s obviously giving them something that they want, or they wouldn’t stay with her.” He is taking it too personally, this attack on Moira. Perhaps because he has bedding practices that are similar to hers, though not for the same reasons.
“Well, I’ll let you know what it is she has when I find out,” I joke, hoping to cajole him out of his bad mood. “Should be sometime this week.” Paris doesn’t reply as he parks a block away from our building. We walk the rest of the way in silence.
“Thanks for coming with me,” Paris says as we enter our apartment. “Even if it was kind of lame.”
“It was ok,” I reply with a coy smile. “At least I got a date out of it with the illustrious Moira. Who, by the way, seems very familiar.” We go into our separate bedrooms to get ready for bed. When I was in college, I used to pull two or three all-nighters in a row on a regular basis. Now that I’m older, I can’t even do one. The curse of growing old is not that you can’t do anything any more, but that you cannot recover as quickly. I shed my clothes and pull on my black satin robe, then shove my feet into my bunny slippers. They were a gag gift from Paris for my last birthday, but they are actually very comfy. They keep my toes nice and warm. I shuffle to the bathroom where Paris is gargling. He is wearing a red satin robe and plain slippers.
“I gotta pee,” I say, moving toward the toilet. Paris politely averts his eyes as I sit down. Paris spits, then rinses out his mouth. When he is done, he speaks.
“Do you think I’m mean to my lovers?” He obviously has been thinking about this ever since our earlier conversation. I hesitate before answering.
“You’re very businesslike with them,” I say, getting off the toilet. I remember to flush, which I don’t always do, then nudge Paris over so I can rinse my hands. After that, I start brushing my teeth. After I spit, I add, “You make them a deal. As long as they interest you, you keep them around. Once you get bored, they’re gone. You’re very honest about that, so no, I wouldn’t call you mean.”
“Isn’t that a way of being mean, though?” Paris protests, wiping his face with a face towel. “I mean, I tell them what’s going to happen, so that absolves me of responsibility? Who the fuck do I think I am? That’s mean in and of itself.”
“Like you said, it’s their choice. If they think they’re going to change you or that it’s going to be different with them, that’s on them.” I finish brushing my teeth and begin flossing.
“It’s disingenuous,” he says gloomily, finished with his bedtime preparations. “It charms the pants right off of them, then they have no valid reason for complaining when I leave. That’s a pretty sweet deal.”
“Look, Paris, if you don’t like it, change it.” I toss out the floss and begin brushing my hair. I like to brush it a hundred times every night before going to bed.
“Who are you to talk about relationships?” Paris asks, his chest swelling with indignation.
“Paris, you fucking asked me,” I say, my own temper rising. “If you don’t want an honest answer, then don’t ask.” I turn my back on him as I continue to brush. There is a moment of silence before he speaks.
“You’re right.” He places a conciliatory hand on my shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze. “I’m just tripping because of all the harsh things people were saying about Moira. I kinda felt they were aimed at me as well. Or they would have if they had known about me.”
“You gotta be you,” I say, turning around to give him a hug. “If people don’t like it, fuck ‘em.” We share a kumbyah moment before breaking apart. Just at that moment, Paris’s cell phone starts ringing. After a moment’s hesitation, Paris goes out to answer it. I follow him into the living room because I am an incurable snoop and need to know who is calling him at this time of night. Of course, it could turn out to be one of his tricks, in which case, I’ll be extremely disappointed.