Excerpt – Chapter 3
Roxy Can’t Contain Herself
I am so hot right now. And everyone knows it. It’s like I own the world. It has no choice but to yield to my gravity. As I step into the Party, all heads turn, or want to turn, and are fighting the urge. The music hits me first. Loud and rude. It’s not just in your face, but in your blood. The lights flash to hypnotize, and the beat takes over your own, replacing it, forcing you to move to it. We are the pacemakers, and right now I’m the one who sets the rhythm. There’s no better time to be me. Al greets me at the door, a glass of champagne in each hand. He’s always been the designated greeter, and never misses an arrival. Al’s older than the rest of us, been around longer, but he carries his age well.
“My, my, Roxy, you are looking fine tonight!”
“Are you suggesting that I didn’t last night?”
He chuckles. “My dear, you get more irresistible every day.”
Al slurs his words. It’s almost like an accent, the way he’s perfected that slur. Consonants and vowels spill over one another. Words in a waterfall. He holds out a champagne flute to me, and I take it. It’s how we shake hands here.
“But where’s your plus-one?” Al asks, looking behind me.
“I’m on my own tonight, Al.”
“On your own?” he repeats, as if it were a phrase in some other language. “That’s unfortunate – what will I do with this second glass of champagne?”
I grin. “I’m sure you’ll put it to good use.”
“Indeed, indeed.” Then he leans closer, whispering, “Maybe you could steal a plus-one.” He looks over at a gaggle of revelers, singling out Addison. He’s dressed in a conspicuous style, like he belongs to a yacht club that his father owns. All prestige and privilege. But we all know it’s overcompensation for being forever on the periphery. In the Party, but not of the Party.
“Addi’s rather full of himself tonight,” Al says. “He’s held on to his date longer than usual – you should steal her before someone else does.”
“You’re always making trouble, Al.”
He raises an eyebrow. “I do love a little drama.”
Addison is at the bar, intently focused on a young woman, who, in turn, is caught in his hypnotic gaze. He’s selling her on how he’ll make her life so much better. All the things he can help her accomplish, blah, blah, blah. Even now, he’s still going on about his keen ability to focus the distracted. There are moments I admire him for his singularity of purpose. Other times I pity him, because he will never be great like the rest of us. Like me. Addison and I came up together. Different family lines, but similar circumstances. Born to help others rather than help ourselves. The problem with Addison is that he never outgrew that stifling idealism. I suppose because most of his work is with kids and adolescents, he still holds on to the youthful naïveté of the task he was created for. True, I still do my job when necessary – dulling angry nerve endings on a strictly clinical basis – but it’s such a minor facet of what I’ve become. They label me a killer of pain, but that doesn’t come close to defining me. I’ve found far more entertaining and empowering uses for my skills. Al, reading my faint grin, says, “Oh, how I love to watch you calculate, Roxy.”
I give him a wink and head off toward Addison. I won’t steal the girl from him – I’m fine being solo tonight. After all, we do have to clear our palate once in a while. Nonetheless, Addison’s so much fun to tease. I make my way to the bar, pushing past the sloe-eyed barflies. Al has long since replaced their empty beer bottles with crystalline glasses filled with more elegant, liver-challenging liquids. Martinis heavy on the gin. Aged scotch. Name your poison, and Al will provide it. I come up in Addison’s blind spot, upstaging him. “Hi, I’m Roxy,” I say to the girl, pulling eye contact. She’s intense and twitchy. Like she’s in the process of being electrocuted but just doesn’t know it yet. Too much of Addison can do that to anyone.
“Hi! I love your dress!” she says. “What color is that?”
“What color do you want it to be?”
Addison turns to me, bristling. “Isn’t there somewhere else you’d rather be, Roxy? Someone else you’d rather grace with your presence?” He looks around. “How about Molly? She looks like she
could use a friend right now.” Molly does look pretty miserable. Dripping wet and crestfallen. “He was in my hands,” I can hear Molly complaining. “I had him – and then some idiot threw me into the pool!”
“Not what I’d call a state of ecstasy,” I quip. Then I smile at the girl Addison has been trying to charm.
“Molly’s a whiner – I’m much happier to hang with you two.”
I’m enjoying Addison’s irritation – and for a moment, I do toy with the idea of claiming her as mine … but it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. Addison’s positively obsessed with one-upmanship. If I lure her away, he’ll never rest until he thinks he’s bested me. Poor Addison. He tries to be like me, but he’s still too deeply mired in the mundane to ever be a player. And as if to prove it, the crowd parts, and I see a commanding presence coming toward us through the breach. It’s the head of Addison’s family. The undisputed godfather of his line. I take a small step back, knowing this doesn’t concern me.
“Crys … is everything to your liking?” says Addison as he sees his boss. I can see Addison deflate, but he does his best to keep up the facade. From a distance, Crys is small and unassuming, but up close he’s larger than life. Then he becomes intimidating far too quickly. It can be disconcerting for the uninitiated.
“And what do we have here?” Crys says, zeroing in on the girl. He smiles darkly, a sparkling quality about him. Or maybe it’s just the glitter on his fingernails. “Addison, aren’t you going to introduce us?”
Addison leaks a quiet sigh. “Crys, this is… This is…”
“Catelyn,” the girl reminds him.
“Right. Catelyn.” Addison will forget her name as soon as she’s out of sight. So will I. A benefit of living in the moment.
“Charmed,” Crys says. Then he takes the girl’s slender hand, his fingers closing around hers like a flytrap on a mosquito. “Dance,” Crys says, and pulls her out onto the floor. She doesn’t resist – but even if she did, it wouldn’t matter. Crys always gets his way. Addison watches them go, pursing his lips, stifling all he wished he could say to his superior. “He could have given me a little more time with her.”
“It’s not his way,” I remind him.
Beneath the flashing lights, Crys and the girl begin their dance. It will not end well for her. Because before the night ends, Crys will pull her into the VIP lounge. Intimate. Deadly. The one place where she’ll get everything she’s ever asked for and a whole lot she didn’t. The VIP lounge is the place where the real business of the Party is done. The girl should consider herself lucky, for Crys is the shining jewel of his line. You can’t trade up any higher than that.
Addison shakes his head. “I really don’t like Crys’s style. I wish I had your boss.”
“No you don’t.”
“Are you kidding me? Hiro never leaves the back office. He lets you bring your plus-ones to him when you’re good and ready.”
I don’t argue with him. No one can know what it’s like to be on someone else’s chain.
“Are you going back out to find someone fresh?” I ask him.
“Why? Just to have them stolen again?”
“Maybe the Party just isn’t for you, Addison.” And although I mean it as a sincere suggestion from a friend, he takes it as a jab.
“Things are always changing, Roxy. Crys won’t always be the head of my line. There’s room for someone smart to move up the ladder.”
I could almost laugh, but I spare him my derision. He gets enough of that from his upline. “You mean someone smart like you?”
“But you’ve never even brought someone to the VIP lounge. You’ve never been with them to the end. That’s not who you are.”
He glowers at me. “Just because I haven’t doesn’t mean that I won’t,” he says, and strides off, indignant.
After he’s gone, I step out onto the deck for some air. The club is high above everything, giving it a spectacular view of the world below – all those city lights. Any city – every city – and here, those lights are always twinkling, because it’s always night. The date might change, but the scene is the same. The bar never closes. The DJ never stops spinning one song into another. This place exists at that golden moment when the bass drops. I join Al, who’s taking a moment too, standing at the railing, looking down on all there is. The turmoil and excitement. The winds that both lift and shred.
“So many parties down there,” I say.
“There’s only one Party,” Al points out. “The rest are but a faint reflection of this one. People can feel it, reach for it, but can’t find it. Not without an invitation.”
And then I hear a voice to my left. “Do you ever wish we could do better?”
I turn to see a slight figure wearing a tie-dye dress and a vague expression. Around her neck hangs a heavy diamond necklace completely out of sync with her style. If you can even call it style.
“Do better?” says Al, amused by the thought. “How so, Lucy?”
“You know,” Lucy says, as if it’s obvious. “Find what we were meant to be. Transcend all of
“Right,” says Al, still smirking. “Good luck with that.”
“We are what we are, Lucy,” I say, shutting her down. “That won’t change, so you might as well embrace it.”
“Well,” she says, “it’s nice to dream.” Then she goes back inside, spreading her arms wide and careening side to side, like she suddenly decided she was an airplane.
“I never liked her,” Al says. “There’s something terribly off-putting about her eyes.” Then he goes back in as well to greet newcomers and freshen everyone’s drink.
I linger, looking out over the endless array of lights. Do you ever wish we could do better? The question rankles me. I am better. At the peak of my game. Loved by those who matter and
hated by those who don’t, because they wish they were me. Addison might be bitter, but not me. It’s time for me to get back out there and bag a new one. I’m ready for my next plus-one.