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American Lullaby: Chapter One

"In a fast-paced city of unforgiving social predators, two masters of the game collide..."
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She had the most beautiful profile, almost like a deer sniffing the wind, picking up the scent of gunpowder and tobacco and wondering from what direction the bullet might come. In the beginning he likened it to a natural instinct in him that made him want to chase her, and with the option of flight or fight, she almost always chose to run. He enjoyed the inventive games she seemed to play, making him work harder to track her through Manhattan’s densely packed social scene. They frequented the same overpriced watering holes and in a room of vapid socialites, herded together by their taste for martinis and Wall Street bankers, he would catch a glimpse of the girl. Her head would tilt to one side, and her eyes would scan the room as she contemplated and assessed the environment. Those eyes never settled on him for more than an instant, and it fueled both his frustrations as well as his hunger for her. Sometimes when she moved past him, he could smell her perfume, which was clean and woody, like the scent of ripened figs combined with the ozone of a recently passed storm.

She seemed like a rather unremarkable girl at first, not quite having the well honed graces that New York City women needed to successfully navigate through a city of unrelenting social perils. He watched her initially succumb to half-wit pick-up lines and older married men that wanted something shiny to play with for the night. Eventually their predatory courtship would almost always scare her away, and the little deer would extricate herself from their paws and hungry grins to slip back out into the night, seemingly unscathed. It became part of his entertainment on the Thursday nights when he put on his usual hunting gear (steel gray Armani) and pretended to be one of them. The suit had belonged to his brother, which had been gifted to him after the suicide, along with Berluti wing-tips and the gold Rolex. He hadn’t been particularly close to his brother, but their mother had wisely deduced that they shared the same shoe-size and certainly Walter wouldn’t be needing them on the long walk to eternity. The suit had to be tailored to fit him, as his brother had packed on quite a few fat-cat pounds during his early success at the Firm.

He spent most Thursday evenings in the meat-packing district, looking for fresh blood. Never one prone to hard work, Liam had laughed off his mother’s suggestions of college or apprenticing at his brother’s Firm. The thought of long hours as the whipping boy to lawyers with arrogant egos was a fate he refused to entertain. Why cater to them when their job was to always keep you down. A good whipping boy wasn’t hard to find in New York. He often saw them, overeager with a nervous energy that kept them thin and perennially nervous about losing their meaningless jobs without realizing that nobody else wanted their job anyway. They would run after their fat-cat mentors, laughing at their jokes, booking their flights, lighting their cigars, and “changing their litter boxes” when they fucked up. They called their boss’s wives late on Wednesdays to tell them of important last minute client dinners to make excuses for them while they dined with their weekday mistresses. They took the blame when things didn’t get done on time. And they were regularly sacrificed when the situation demanded, because there was always fresher meat at the next cattle boy auction. Even better, the new recruits would work for less, until their time at the slaughterhouse came as well.

No, he would NOT become one of them. He was too smart for that. He had always considered himself the cleverer of the two brothers. He was observant, and he had a perfect memory, being able to recall odd bits of stored knowledge that could serve his purpose at opportune moments. And more importantly, he’d been given the gift of good looks and a charismatic personality that could charm even he most jaded of debutantes. The key was to feign a lack of arrogance. New York was a veritable swimming pool of slick sharks, each flashing brighter teeth, and wanting to make the biggest wave with each thrash of a tail. Not him. He was the dolphin that swept in afterwards to mock the sharks, and make the women laugh and drop their guard, and more often than not he could go home with the most beautiful one.

But it wasn’t beauty he was after, at least not all of the time. He was, admittedly, as primal as the next man when it came to seeing a pair of long legs in stilettos, and a beautifully shaped mouth. Sometimes he gave into the visual lure of wanting to bed something shiny and beautiful. But more often than not, they were models or washed-up actresses, or some farm-fresh blonde looking for her big Broadway break. In essence, they were no different than him, and he could spot a fake Fendi a mile away. He was more interested in the real blue bloods, the Bergdorf beauties with their Judith Leiber clutches, and their eagerness to be flattered because it had been so long since they had heard those words: “you’re beautiful.” Such simple words could hold such power, and it never ceased to amaze him how often they bought him a pass into a woman’s most intimate world. Sometimes they were married, and bored with their fat-cat husbands who were out at a different bar with a different mistress. Sometimes they were divorcees or widowers, excited to have someone cater to their loneliness or bruised egos. And it all seemed so much easier than spending long days in a meaningless job as if he was just an ordinary person, leading an ordinary life. Surely if God had intentionally given everyone their special talents, his was the gift of natural charm. And honing those skills had taken him on trips to Monte Carlo, to Barcelona and Dubai, and sun drenched beaches in French Polynesia and St Barths. And all for a little attention and flattery to a woman, and he could always find something genuine to flatter her with. It wasn’t exploitation in so much as a fair trade. And Christ… women had been doing it for far longer than he had! New York catered to a special elite breed of women who made their success one way or another, and so why shouldn’t he enjoy a slice of their pie?

It was a city with a universal urban religion of survival of the fittest. Everyone understood this of New York. The stilettos were taller, the muscles were tighter and the men lasted longer. Whether this was gained by a diet of restraint, a lifestyle of plastic surgery and personal trainers, or just a handful of little blue pills was irrelevant. Every morning, men and women pounded the pavement with Starbucks in hand, trimming the fat with a run through Central Park, caffeine resolving any lingering fatigue, and Liam was no different. He spent much of his free time sculpting his body and keeping it lean and toned. He preferred just enough muscle to be noticeable under a slim fitting tee or well-tailored shirt, but not too much to suggest that he especially cared. The trappings of his own vanity had really been more of an investment for him. They opened doors, and ensured a returned smile across the bar, and had allowed him a rather comfortable lifestyle in the finest city in the world that seemed purely hedonistic on the best of days. After his run, he wasn’t going to the office, he was going to a café to watch the mad pedestrian traffic and be glad he wasn’t the rat in the ever spinning wheel that seemed to go nowhere.

One early October morning, he caught a glimpse of Her on 5 th Avenue. He was leaving Central Park, wiping away invisible beads of sweat (he always slowed down his runs before perspiring) for the benefit of a perfectly botoxed brunette swinging her large black Barney’s bags, who gave him an appreciative once-over before continuing on her way. Probably a second-time newlywed he thought to himself, unable to stop the reflex grin at his own assessment. Give her two years, and she’ll be inviting him for a latte and a naked smile or two. But his thoughts were quickly interrupted by the ephemeral sight of Her. She was briskly walking across the street, carrying a large brown portfolio style case tucked under one arm. He recognized her gait more than her features, for certainly she looked different than her usual incarnations in the trendy meat-packing district. Her hair, usually up in a sleek chignon was now loose and falling well past her shoulders, thick and wavy, and an unusual shade of vintage gold, almost like an old locket. She was wearing tall brown over-the-knee boots and faded jeans and while he couldn’t see her face, he knew instinctively that it was the same girl. She had that coltish gait about her, unconfident and uncertain, as though she might need to bolt in a nonspecific direction at the first scent of danger.

He immediately started walking in the same direction, wondering if she too had seen him. Surely someone who appeared this unnaturally nervous would be aware of being watched or tracked. He stared across the street unabashedly, waiting for her to turn her head to catch a glimpse of her face through the veil of hair, but her eyes seemed to dart in every direction but his. He felt frustrated by her game, and by this seemingly unremarkable girl that always refused to look his way, whether it was across the bar, or on her way out of a restaurant, or even now on a parallel sidewalk. He quickened his pace, and then during a lull in traffic, he jogged over to her side so that he was directly behind her. The pedestrians started to converge and the decision to cross the street had her considerably ahead of him. He was only able to catch fleeting glimpses of her now; her heart-shaped bottom in the faded blue jeans, the sway back posture, a bit of red embroidery on the hem of her sheer blouse, and the long swing of hair that looked like champagne lace as she walked through a shock of sunlight breaking through a gap between two buildings.

And then suddenly she was gone. With frustration he realized that she had gone down into the subway line and while he half considered going after her, he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of going that far out of his way. They had shared the same space so many times before, it seemed ridiculous to be chasing her into the underground on this one unremarkable day. Besides, he was dressed in running clothes, and it was 10am. He could always feign that he’d take a day off from his high powered job, or perhaps he could say that he was wasting time until his late day executive flight to Paris. And certainly no one could criticize him for his dedication to a healthy lifestyle. But no, there would be another day and another time when he was sharp and well pressed and ready to charm this little deer wandering haplessly through her enchanted urban forest.

It was time to return home, and the only thought that pleased him was that he wouldn’t have to be there for long. He shared an 800 square foot shoebox in Hell’s Kitchen, with an old college friend that paid the lion’s share of the rent. This was mostly because Randall had the misfortune of being a social misfit, and enjoyed being part of Liam’s entourage. Not that Liam had much of an entourage these days, as his preference was to hunt alone. As well, Randall’s tendency to embarrassing social gaffes, and his refusal to rid himself of the glasses that he kept having to push upwards on a virtually bridgeless downward sloping nose, made him look even geekier and more awkward. It had begun to feel like nails on a chalkboard to Liam. He reserved Sunday afternoons for putting in his time with Randall to appease him with a bit of friendship and this, in turn, allowed him to be lax with his monthly rent cheques. The truth of the matter was that Liam had been much more forgiving with those that he had acquainted himself with during his teenage years. 

Liam Sullivan had been born to Irish immigrant parents. His mother had been a seamstress and his father had worked in railroad construction along with Randall’s father. Randall’s mother had died of cancer when he was a toddler, and in part he remembered Randall’s presence in his childhood almost as a brother. His own mother had fondly opened her apron skirts to him, taking pity upon the odd little bow-legged boy with the giant horn-rimmed spectacle glasses and shy smile. They had grown up together and Liam did feel a certain fondness for him. He had been his sounding board and his greatest support during his rebellious teenage years, and the pressures to follow up in his older brother’s golden footsteps. Randall had been the first to agree that being a lawyer was completely overrated, and they had laughed it up on those nights they were having fun at the pub while his brother Walter was studying for his Bar Exams. Randall had also been the perfect wing-man back then when a pretty girl could easily fall in love over a pint of beer and a charming smile.

Now that the stakes were higher, Randall more often seemed like a liability. He didn’t like the “pretensions” of the meatpacking district, and he didn’t want to go to tennis games with rich older women, or even yoga classes with the hot younger ones. Randall preferred the Irish pubs and late night poker games, and sometimes he was entirely content to play video games for an entire weekend. The depressing state of Randall’s social life was on his Liam’s mind as he got home that morning. And to make matter worse, Randall had taken the day off just for an online poker tournament.

“God, Randall, you’ve got to get out there and live for Christ sake, not staying cooped up in this dank box with your computer.”

“So what’s it to you?” he’d say, barely looking up from the screen. “I don’t need to be dating my mother. I got over the Oedipal thing a long time ago.”

Liam would roll his eyes at the unusual bite of sarcasm.

“There are plenty of pretty young things in this city. Speaking of… I saw ‘The Little Deer’ again.”

Randall, knowing whom he was referring to based on Liam’s endless late night stories, just yawned and kept clicking away at his online bet. 

“So?”

“So… I’m just saying!”

“Did you talk to her?”

Liam chuckled “No… the key is to wait for her to talk to me.”

“Which will never happen.”

“Shows how little you know about women Randy. It WILL happen. It’s just in the stages of an early power play.”

Randall let out a bark of laughter. “She doesn’t even know you’re alive.”

Liam ignored his comment and went to take a shower. There was no sense in qualifying a comment that was so obviously flawed. She knew exactly who he was. There had been many a moment when they’d almost brushed past each other and he had inhaled her unusual scent. Her pretence of not wanting to acknowledge him had been amusing to him at first, and then a challenge. At this point it had become slightly irksome. Surely they were long overdue for a formal hello. It seemed madness to see each other all over the city, obviously traveling in the same social circles and yet never confirming any of the encounters with so much as a smile. By this point her lack of open interest in even a passing flirtation had made him legitimately hungry for her. It quite possibly might have been that his fascination with her was just that he couldn’t yet have her. It was rare that any woman held his interest after the initial honeymoon period that seemed to be growing shorter with each conquest. 

Unless they could hold his interest in some other way, a pretty girl could only go so far, for what did she have to offer once her mysteries had been revealed. Eventually he’d see the cellulite, the nubby tracks of her hair extensions, or hear the incessant whining about needing salad dressing on the side. Eventually the panicked calls would come when she couldn’t reach him at 3am. Why go through such annoyances when there was always another beautiful and immediately uncomplicated girl around the next corner? 

Liam had always been careful with his commitments, and certainly he had been leading a far more charmed life than Randall with his online gaming, and the hideous plastic sex toy he’d found shoved under his bed the other day. He shuddered just to imagine it again; grateful that he was out most nights, so that he didn’t have to think about him using it in the next room. Liam shaved and styled his wavy dark brown hair, and added a splash of Bvulgari Black cologne. It had been discontinued years ago, but a friend still shipped him bottles from Europe where it still had a limited following. It was, in fact, his signature scent and he preferred to not smell like the rest of the New York sheep. Women seemed to like the memory of him being left behind on their white Frette sheets, as it always kept them wanting more. And as long as they wanted more, he was free to take it as well.

That day he was off to meet his current ‘girlfriend’ at BG’s cafe in Bergdorf’s. Deidre Sorel was a beautifully preserved woman who appeared to be in her early fourties which probably meant she was in her early fifties, not that he’d ever dare to ask. She was recently divorced from her oil consultant husband who had traveled internationally for years and left her very lonely most of the time. She had waited it out for the divorce because quite frankly, she deeply enjoyed the lifestyle. But when she finally had the confirmation he’d been taking a twenty-something Swedish model along on business trips, she had done the next best thing. She viciously dragged him through the divorce courts leaving a trail of blood in his wake and now the Park Avenue apartment was hers, as well as the vacation home in the Seychelles. And it was much easier to have the lifestyle without having to watch his sagging old-man’s ass crossing the bedroom in the mornings. Now it was Liam’s ass that she watched, and finally she could enjoy the view.

Liam arrived at BG’s early and found Deidre already seated like the Park Avenue queen that she was, in the robins egg blue salon chair that made her seem like aristocratic royalty. She was already into a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and was typing on her blackberry when she looked up and saw him. 

“Hello darling.” 

She stood and kissed him chastely on the lips, as was appropriate for a mid afternoon in Bergdorf’s. 

Liam sat across from her and smiled sincerely. “Don’t you look beautiful today!”

It was a reflex comment, and something he always ensured to say whenever he saw her, but in Deidre’s case he genuinely did mean it. She may have been past her New York prime, but she was still an extraordinarily beautiful woman with her classic cool blonde looks, high cheekbones and impeccable grooming. She was wearing a cream raw silk suit that she unbuttoned as she smiled across from him to reveal a very low-cut camisole that set off her ample cleavage. She had obviously had breast implants when she was younger, and while their firmness was inconsistent, they were still magnificent when set off in push-up La Perla. 

“Darling how was your day?” she drawled.

“Better now that I’m here with you,” he said with a rueful grin. “How was Switzerland?”

“Terrible,” she said. “Terrible food, terrible shopping… and even worse, Vicente put a hold on my property transfer with the villa in Praslin. Something about needing to arrange a new docking location for the sailboat. As if I care about the sailboat! Funny thing it’s registered name is Deidre’s Dream…. I think that technically should make it mine, don’t you? In fact I’m sure now that I think back he bought it as a birthday gift for me, even though he knows I loathe sailing”.

He reached across the table and took her hand. “I think I could make you like sailing.”

“Ooh, do you sail?” she asked, leaning forward conspiratorially. “You know I could call my lawyers.”

He laughed gamely at how much she wanted to please him, and how easy it was for him, a relative nobody, to further complicate the already ugly divorce of Vincente Sorel, a man who had successfully drilled oil out of every continent on the globe. And there he was, just 33 years old, drilling his ex-wife and moving pawns across the chessboard to engage him in a play of assets. Amazing! 

They talked on about the Seychelles, and for sheer amusement he encouraged her to go after the sailboat. He didn’t know how to sail, but he was sure that were they to ever end up at her villa, they would have staff on hand for things like navigating the open sea. He was best left to rub suntan oils on her back, and make her his special dirty mojitos, something he did know how to do well. He already started to imagine them beachside, he in loose white linen pants that would hang low enough to reveal the cut of his lower abdominal muscles, and she in a silk headscarf and short Pucci caftan, eating fresh lobster, enjoying the sultan’s sun. That was surely where he belonged, not slaving to make partner in a law firm as his brother had, only to kill himself in the end because his spoiled, insipid wife had left him because of workaholic tendencies. 

After their lunch, he escorted Deidre through Bergdorf’s for a “shopping stroll” as she called them, flattering her as she tried on couture dresses, and expensive precious stones. He often caught the eye of a salesgirl, the type that he would probably try to pick up for a fast evening of pleasure while having drinks at the Standard or Pastis. Naturally she had a skeptical look that would turn to one of disdain watching him fawn over a woman that was twenty years older than him, but he didn’t especially care. In the end they were still working for minimum wage as the servants to the lavish appetites of customers that simply had too much money for their own good. They would never get to eat at that table. But he did. Liam couldn’t resist a quick wink at the shop girl who seemed noticeably shocked when Deidre nonchalantly told her to add in a pair of Yozu 18K gold cufflinks to the bill, just because he had said in passing that he liked them. 

There was a late afternoon rendezvous at her Park Avenue penthouse that followed, and while he did find Deidre beautiful in her own vintage way, he couldn’t honestly say that her body excited him. It might have, had he not been able to sample the young flesh of models and college girls in the meatpacking district on any night of his choosing. But he was clever enough with the right words to make her feel like a goddess and she was so eager to please him. He had found himself on many occasions, closing his eyes, and imagining Her moving rhythmically on top of him… ashen blonde waves falling over his face, lips that tasted of ripe figs, and beautiful doe eyes rolling back in ecstasy. The entire image of it excited him on a primal, lustful level, and sometimes he could swear he could almost smell that lightning storm scene of ozone that seemed to follow her when she passed by him.

The thought of Her stayed with him a little longer than it usually did, even while Deidre was talking absently about divorce proceedings and smoking her extra slim menthols in bed, while he stared out the window at the grey October landscape filled with its infinite number of beautiful women and wondered where among them she was. Finally as dusk fell, he snapped himself out of his preoccupation with The Little Deer, admonishing himself for coming ever closer to a near obsession with this completely random girl that he had never even spoken to. She was very likely as dull and whiny as they always turned out to be. Surely he would be disappointed after building her up like this in his mind.

He found an excuse to whisper into Deidre’s ear about a kickboxing class he didn’t want to be late for, and kissed her for an extra long time to make up for the fact that he was ducking out on her when she obviously wanted to order in dinner and have another go at it. The truth was that he did need to get to the gym, but there was no kickboxing class on the agenda. He had just thought it sounded like something youthful and masculine, and so much better to put into the equation something that required a specific timeline versus something like a workout that could easily be pushed off or re-arranged. He didn’t want her to go through the occasionally embarrassing attempts at persuasion that she had used in the past.

He gave a quick nod to the doorman as was his customary way as he left the building, and caught a cab from park avenue to The Equinox in Tribeca – a fitness/spa lifestyle gym complex that worked out some of the hottest, richest bodies in the city. He had actually met the girl he’d been seeing prior to Deidre there. She was a New York socialite with her daddy’s charge card and a trendy loft down the road. She was young and beautiful and for the first time in a long while, Liam genuinely thought he could fall deeply for her. After all it wasn’t hard to want to bed Cassidy Levine with her long dark hair and curvy little body, but quite quickly her personality began grate on him. 

Her whiny insufferable voice turning his brain to swiss cheese as she complained about everything in her life from the extra three pounds she couldn’t seem to lose, to the state of the economy she knew nothing about, to the suffering in Darfur that she claimed kept her up at night, when really it was the bottle of Jack Daniels, and lines of cocaine that were likely responsible. She wanted to go out with her vapid socialite party friends and she wanted him there with her to wait politely for her to finish her gossiping, flatter her and make her look good in front of them. There was something infinitely more degrading in that, than in making love to an intelligent, mature woman like Diedre Sorel. As well, her party-girl penchant for trying to spontaneously locate drug dealers at 3am started to wear thin on him, and he bid her adieu for the last time. She seemed upset about it for several weeks, calling to apologize, but it was his rule to never go back. And besides, there would always be something better around the next corner. And precisely three days later, he found Deidre Sorel at a Van Gogh exhibit at MOMA. It was easy in a city like New York, where there were so much variety and so many shiny new things to catch one’s eye.

After doing some circuit training, Liam accidentally caught sight of Cassidy strolling in, freshly glossed and ready to do her usual gym socials, and he cut his workout short. He ran into a few guys that he occasionally went for drinks with in the change room and they told him about an impromptu concert that night in Soho by a trendy new Indie band called Iron & Wine. They insisted he come along, and being that it was only a Tuesday, he decided to join them, completely uncertain as to what Iron & Wine sounded like, but not particularly caring, because it was probably good to make an effort to be social and consort with new people. Every moment was an opportunity to make connections, and network, and it was something that all New Yorkers seemed obsessed with.

He returned home to change into dark jeans and a gothic motif tee-shirt that he favored because it’s slim cut emphasized the perfect v-cut of his upper torso, something he’d only become content with that year after an especially committed six months of strength training combined with low carbs. He took a subway to Soho, not something he usually did, but for a foolish moment he thought he might run into Her in the underground. Alas she was nowhere to be seen, and later he thought about the flaws in his logic as surely someone as nervous and easily startled as Her would not resort to using the metro late at night. Not with all the schitzos and perverts, and generally seedy types that tended to ride the train after dark.

He walked into Il Bastardo while the band was setting up on stage and found Evan, Gary, and Danny by the bar. The space was already crowding up.

“So what’s this all about?” he asked.

“New band – really hot right now,” Evan said in his fast Australian accent. “My girlfriend went to school with the lead singer. He’s from South Carolina. He’s like… our age, but a total hippie, straight out of the 60s anti-Vietnam thing. Wait until you see him – full beard, acoustic guitar. You’ll love it”.

Liam had never been one for the hippie thing. They seemed lazy and dirty, and unconcerned with their own success. While it was all nice (in theory) to love everyone and be concerned with greater humanity, it just wasn’t practical in a ‘eat or be eaten’ society. If everyone could have been deposited on a self-contained Shangri-la island, Liam was sure he’d be just as content to smoke dope and shag everything in sight, and wax poetic about the whole ‘make love, not war’ sentiments, but until then, he would be running the race with the rest of the alpha-dogs that wanted more for less. Sure he didn’t do it in exactly the way some front-runners did, but in the end it was about one’s overall smarts in getting his success, and he was enjoying the finer things in life just as much as the next guy, only he was clever enough to do it by being strategic with where he placed his efforts.

Doubtful about his choice in evening activity, he ordered a Heineken, and did some people watching. It was an unusual crowd; a little bit of everything, like a collective melting pot of New York society. It was definitely predominantly artistic, as the Soho area demanded, and in some cases verging on almost grungy. 

An hour later, the place dimmed, and the crowd converged and they found a spot near the far side of the stage. There was people sitting on the floor, on chairs, near tables, and generally standing and leaning on pillar-beams and even against each other. The spotlights were turned on, reddish purple hued as the lead singer Sam Breams came onstage. He was, indeed for all intents and purposes, a hippie, appearing like a relic from the late sixties, without any real excuse for it. He obviously hadn’t actually lived through the sixties himself, and the angst of Vietnam and disillusionment of the American Dream was long behind all of them. He had a scruffy, unkempt beard, and long hair, as though he’d come fresh through a long trek through the Andes, or possibly had some unknown kinship with Grizzly Adams. Liam wasn’t expecting much of the lone man on stage with his equally vintage band mates as they started to play their first piece, but the moment he opened his mouth, he was shaken to the core. The music itself was surprisingly lovely in tone. It was a quietly performed song about the disillusionment of the American Dream, with a melody that was instantly haunting and immediately captivated the audience. But it wasn’t just the music. 

In fact for several moments, Liam couldn’t breathe, feeling as though the lighting was playing tricks on him for standing right there, far across from him on the other side of the stage, beneath the red-hued spotlights filtering around her, making the vision appear as something of an apparition to him... was the girl of the moment…The Little Deer.

He didn’t breathe, didn’t move, not wanting to startle her. Indeed he felt the quickening of his pulse like a hunter that had just come across a beautiful doe standing by a cool mountain stream, wondering if the doe was aware of his presence, and how fixated he instantly was on her form.

In those first moments holding her freely in his gaze, he was allowed to stare, and thinking of previous times when he’d been playing games in the bars and in the streets he certainly hadn’t really seen her like this, bathed in this warm amber glow, and he was instantly and genuinely taken aback by her unusual beauty. She had the most perfectly oval face he’d ever seen, and its shape was repeated again by the rounded brows that framed deep, heavy lidded upturned eyes that seemed too large for their canvas, as though she’d been hand drawn by an artist from Disney. Her mouth too, was large for her face, and slightly open as she looked up at this hippie singer singing his silken ballad. He saw the charming protrusion of two front teeth that were just slightly larger than the rest, giving her a feral kind of beauty with her noticeably high cheekbones and small delicate nose. The hair was as he had seen it earlier that day in the street, long and honeyed and flowing over small shoulders and he was suddenly grateful for this moment to study her and admire all the bits and pieces that he’d never allowed himself to put together as the final puzzle of what this previously unremarkable girl really looked like. For in those moments, as he held his breath, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

There was a beautiful sadness to this girl. And a stillness that he had yet to see in a city that seemed constantly moving, talking, laughing, and living. Everyone seemed constantly in motion, whether physically or psychologically, and he had never seen someone appear so perfectly and imperviously still. And it was breathtaking. There was no illusion of needing to appear prettier, smarter, more clever, or more charming. She was just as she was. Perfect in her own meditative state of being. He had never seen anyone like this outside of a still photo. Indeed she almost seemed not of this time, like a vintage antiqued creation of decades before, fragile and vulnerable, like she might disappear in an instant, dissolving into thin air to return to her rightful space inside his overactive imagination.

His captivation with her was so complete and final, that he considered that he might have inexplicably fallen in love with her in that one single moment. And as if hearing his thoughts projected towards her, she suddenly met his gaze and held it. She looked at him with those doe eyes, not moving, entirely expressionless, and yet he was certain of the eye contact. He wondered if she was feeling it too; this intoxicating heady moment of intense infatuation and otherworldly connection. Surely this couldn’t be just in his own head?

The song had barely finished before he was on his feet, moving around an excited crowd, clapping and hollering and ruining the perfect stillness of the most overwhelming moment of his life; that instant recognition that he had to know her. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead, brought on by a shear terror that he would lose her from his sight, and as the crowd surged forward for the next song, he was still knocking into people, vaulting over swaying hippies sitting among the crowd, trying to get to the other side of the stage, until finally a goliath member of security grabbed him with two hands.

“What are you doing, man?”

He struggled for words, but he didn’t think any that came out that made sense. His eyes strained the crowd for any signs of The Little Deer, but they came up empty. 

By the time he had convinced the meathead bodyguard (did hippies have bodyguards now?) that he meant no harm, precious minutes had passed. Already knowing in his heart what he feared the most, he turned the corner of the stage and saw that she was gone. Deep frustration flamed hot in his face. Had he frightened her? He tried to think back to his reaction to her and was suddenly concerned that perhaps he had looked like a complete madman, rushing to get to her like a bloodthirsty predator. 

The Little Deer had run … again. Feeling foolish for both his reaction to her and the fact that he had probably scared her off, he returned to the table, putting off their questions about why he had run off as though being fanned by the flames of a devil. Yet he remained pre-occupied for the rest of the concert, his eyes scanning and re-scanning the crowd, hoping she would come back, yet of course she never did. In fact for a while he started questioning the entire moment. Had he inadvertently hallucinated the whole thing? Had someone drugged his drink, or perhaps was it just a normal girl that he had mistakenly imagined as her, projecting his own warped misguided fantasies onto someone else.

Despondent and confused, he continued drinking until the concert was over. He wanted to go home early, although he quickly realized going home meant he would have to listen to Randall go on about all the money he had either won or lost with his online poker game. Or even worse, maybe he’d hear him taking out his celebrations on that thing under his bed. 

Morosely, he agreed to one last drink with the guys, and very quickly they became swarmed by a group of office girls from the fashion district on their night out. One of the girls knew Danny, and it set off the chain for several rounds immediately being bought. They were all pretty, and very young (probably interns), but he was distracted from his game by the memory of the girl to whom none of them compared. 

One of the twenty-somethings, a curly-haired brunette named Rochelle had taken an interest in him, and she was not shy about making it known, almost in his lap before her second tequila shot. He humored her, as she had a great body, all tight and pert and unravaged by time and circumstance. He also enjoyed the envious looks the other guys gave him as she giggled and whispered into his ear. It didn’t seem to matter that what she was whispering was mostly incoherent. He only caught the occasional irrelevant word, but smiling seemed enough encouragement for her, and by the end of the night she was almost in a full drunken version of a lap-dance.

Gary’s jaw was hanging open with wide-eyed appreciation, and Liam just shrugged as though modestly not understanding his ‘honey-to-bees’ affect on women. At first it was all in good fun, and then eventually he started to consider that perhaps he should go home with her. He felt too crushed by his earlier experience of once again missing a chance encounter with The Girl, and the thought of a long cold cab ride up to Hell’s Kitchen just made him feel more even miserable about the night. 

He leaned in to whisper into her ear. “Want some company after this?”

She smiled at him with her glassy-eyed inebriation. “Oh yea-ah baby! Let’s go.”

She moved to get off him but stumbled a little. “Except…I uh… I don’t have any condoms. Do you?”

Great. It was a rare moment that he didn’t have anything, but he hadn’t exactly been expecting to get lucky on a random Tuesday night at a hippie concert. He considered just telling her to forget the whole idea, but then reconsidered, as his buddies seemed almost invested in his ability to get laid that night since they were all doing such a poor job pitching the idea themselves. 

He leaned into Rochelle again. “Wait here. I’ll just go to the corner store and grab some and come back to pick you up.”

She looked at him suspiciously. “But you’re coming back though right. You’re not just going to leave.”

“I’m coming back,” he promised. “Just wait here.”

Liam wanted to be quick about it, before he changed his mind. There was a good possibility he’d get her back to her place, and she’d just end up passing out, or even worse spending the night cradling the porcelain bowl. But he figured he had nothing else going on, and still a night of fun with a nubile young girl was still preferable to a night holed up in the Hell’s Kitchen shoe-box with Randall. He jogged a block away to the all-night Korean convenience store, and grabbed a box of Trojans and some breath mints. He had paid and was putting his wallet away when he heard a British girls voice behind him.

“Marlboro Reds please.”

He turned; planning to take a quick passing look and then froze in his place. It was Her! For a moment he was so stunned he didn’t move, and she looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“Excuse me.”

He took a step aside to let her buy her cigarettes, unable to keep from staring, his heart pounding loudly in his ears. He could not believe his good fortune to run into her, and was now panicked at the thought of completely fucking up the moment by looking inanely star struck. While she paid, he willed himself to calm down, for he was certain he would not be able to endure the devastation of having to remember back on this moment if he made an idiot of himself. 

She turned back around and looked at him squarely. She had green eyes that turned almost amber near the iris, and again he was taken in by her wide cherry mouth and feral front teeth that gave a natural charm and character to her lovely oval face. He was instantly awakened by her features, by her smell (the figs!), and now the lilt of her English accent. Not knowing what to say, he said the most ridiculous thing he could.

“Its me!”

She looked confused. “Sorry do I know you?”

He pushed aside the embarrassment. “I saw you at the concert tonight…at Il Bastardo.”

“Oh,” she said, her mouth forming the ‘O’ in a way that completely transfixed him, and then her lips closed. “Yeah, I was there. Fun.”

She brushed past him and started to walk, and in a daze he followed after her as though tethered to her by an invisible string.

“You left after the first song,” he said, now keeping pace with her as they walked down 7 th Avenue, not quite believing that she still hadn’t recognized him. Or was it part of her game to play hard to get? Certainly she seemed adept at that, and it was not something he was used to being on the other end of.

“It was the only song I wanted to hear,” she said. “The rest is… hippie stuff.”

He gave her a quick once over, not wanting to state the obvious, that she was wearing an embroidered mini-dress and faded cowboy boots. Surely she was as bohemian chic as they came in New York. But he didn’t want to annoy her with his sarcastic sense of humor until he’d figured her out a little better.

“I’m Liam Sullivan,” he offered, still surprised she had not slowed her stride.

“Nice to meet you Liam… where are you going? Same direction as me, I presume?”

“Maybe… where are you going?”

“Home.”

“Coincidentally, I happen to be going home with you too.”

She stopped in her tracks to look at him. For a moment he was fearful he had crossed the line, but her face broke into a wry smile. “Nice try Liam. But I don’t think you have the key to get into that establishment.”

He smiled at her, all boyish flirtation. “What can I do to get it?”

She shrugged, finally playing along willingly, pretending to think over the options. “I don’t know Liam. How about a drink first and then we’ll see if you’re worthy.”

His interest was alight like a flame in a wild wind. She was clever and she was beautiful and she was happy to put up a playful challenge and this was his favorite type of an exceedingly rare breed of woman.

He suggested the Antique Garage on Mercer, and she gamely agreed. They started walking and he quickly forgot about Rochelle and Iron & Wine, and the guys from the gym. His entire focus was fixated on this unusual blonde girl who was easily keeping up with his long stride.

Suddenly he was aware of the small plastic bag in his hands and as though reading his thoughts she nodded to it. “Do you have condoms in there?”

He grimaced but decided to come clean with it. “Yes.”

She smirked. “And where’s the lucky girl?”

“Long story. They were for a friend I left in the bar.”

“Right!” 

She laughed, and he was intrigued by the sound of it, easy and free, and entirely charming.

“So, what’s your friend going to do now without any condoms?”

He shrugged. “Change his plans obviously.”

She laughed again. “Or name the baby after you, right?”

He was intrigued by her confident wit. There already seemed to be no faults with this girl, and he tried to steady his enthusiasm. He had been this way before, albeit not on this scale, and there was always disappointment as nobody had ever stayed on that pedestal for very long.

They got to the restaurant and took a seat at a back table. It was obviously quiet for a Tuesday, but there was still a bit of a crowd, even at this late hour. There was something warm and inviting about the exposed brick, and vintage chandeliers and unusual dated furniture you’d expect to find in your (trendy) grandmother’s attic. It seemed perfect for the evening, and even more perfect for this girl with her art-house sixties vibe. Funny, she had never worn anything like this in the meatpacking district, and it seemed to suit her so much better.

Her eyes darted around the restaurant, with the familiar nervous energy and then finally settled on his face, and held his gaze.

“So… my friendly stranger… do you makes acquaintances like this often?”

“No,” he said. “But I thought we should finally meet, and say a formal hello”.

“Formal Hello?” she seemed confused. “Just because you saw me at the concert?”

“Well I’ve seen you everywhere… haven’t you seen me?”

She shook her head, seeming to genuinely be drawing a blank, and his first instinct was to feel insulted, but then he thought the better of it…She was obviously still playing the game.

“At STK, The Standard, Pastis, Buddha Bar?”…

“Oh,” she said making that same insufferably adorable “O” with her mouth. “Those places, yes… Thursday nights right?”

“Mostly.”

She nodded. “Yeah it’s an interesting crowd. Do you wear a suit?”

“Do you wear pearls and stilettos?”

She grinned. “Touché.”

They ordered martinis, his straight up, and hers blood orange. And it was only then that he realized the madness of the moment.

“I don’t even know your name!”

“You didn’t ask.”

“So I’m asking…”

She had the faintest smile and cocked her head to the side, studying him.

“It’s Estella. Estella Starr.”

His eyes widened “Really? Estella Starr?”

Her back straightened. “Yes, really… why?”

“Well, it’s just an unusual name, isn’t it? Doesn’t Estella itself mean star?”

He knew this because he had dated an Estella once that had delighted in telling him this over and over again as though this somehow predestined her for a life of magic and celebrity. Needless to say she had had a two-line part in a Broadway play, and immediately fancied herself as an established theatre actress. That Estella had been nothing like this one.

“I know,” she drawled. “My name is a double Star. It doesn’t make much sense does it? My parents were hippies. Go figure.” And then a wry grin. “I have a sister named Morning.”

He couldn’t stop smiling, watching this otherworldly creature with her quick charming mannerisms and wide doe eyes. It was like someone had chosen the most perfect physical imperfections and combined them together to draw his dream woman and then brought her to life.

“And you’re from England?” he asked, stating the obvious, but not caring if he seemed dull with his wit that evening. 

She seemed to be sufficiently intrigued by him either way, and he was constantly distracted by every new discovery from her square plum red fingernails, to the way the corners of her mouth turned up when she talked.

“I’m from Liverpool originally,” she said. “My dad’s still there and my sister has gone off on some archeological dig in Nigeria. Gone for another year or two. And let’s see… I’ve been in Soho for about two and a half years now.”

“And you live here in Soho? What do you do?”

She rolled her eyes. “An artist of course, like everybody else. My dad helps me out with the rent. I figured I needed to give it a try. And New York is the best place in the world.”

He nodded “You love it, don’t you.”

“From the first moment.” Her eyes were passionate.

“What kind of painting do you do?”

“I use acrylics mostly. Mainly abstract. Sometimes I copy the other great artists…Warhol, and even a bit of Picasso in his Rose period”.

“Wow!” he said appreciatively. “Those are not easy artists to copy.”

She shrugged and just grinned at him. “I’m a very good study. And they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?”

“I guess so.”

She toyed with the stem of her martini glass. “So what about you?”

“Well… I was a lawyer previously. Worked at this firm, Barns & Sullivan down in the financial district. Got tired of the bullshit. Thought I’d take some time off to reset. Find out what I want to do next.”

She listened to him carefully as though dissecting his words and then turning them over to question their validity in her mind. He wasn’t sure if she totally bought into what he’d said, but she seemed to let it go.

“You’re cute anyways. The regular rules probably don’t apply to you.”

He raised his eyebrows, surprised by her subtle dig and he couldn’t resist volleying the ball back.

“Your Daddy obviously agreed they don’t apply to you either.”

For a moment, he regretted what he’d said for it came out sounding like something that should have gotten him a blood orange martini thrown in his face, but she only smiled back, almost seeming impressed by his assessments.

“I completely agree.”

They continued on with another round of martinis until they were the last ones there. With a nod, they realized they had overstayed their evening and he paid for the drinks and they were back out in the cool October air. He could feel his blackberry going off on vibrate in his jacket pocket, but ignored it altogether. Likely it was one of the guys he had left back at Il Bastardo. He hoped none of them had given Rochelle his number. He could imagine the long litany of angry voicemails that might be awaiting him. 

Regardless, Rochelle had been so inebriated; he had probably done one of them a favor, as she was likely to go home with any of them if they asked right. No matter the outcome, it had easily been worth it, because for the first time in his life, he wasn’t disappointed, he was only more intrigued. Estella was feisty and yet vulnerable at the same time. She was an intriguing combination of doe eyes and a carnivorous smile and it made his blood run hot.

“So now what?” he asked.

She raised her eyebrows and he took her small hand and twirled her once in the street, seeing the faint outline of her willowy figure silhouetted through her dress by the silvery street lamps. It was like the slow motion movement of his childhood wet dreams. She was the fantasy figure in his father’s playboys. That first glimpse of female flesh… all champagne blond waves, and porcelain skin.

“I think you’ve earned your key,” she said finally, and he was instantly hard.

Estella Starr lived in a 1400 square foot loft in the most exclusive part of Soho. Liam walked in, almost in a daze, for he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he surely hadn’t expected this goddess to also live this well. There was exposed red brick and white plastered walls. The floor was well-worn pine, but it had been resanded to a fine grain and well polished and it was beautiful in its own aged character. There wasn’t much in the way of furnishings, just an oversized white sofa, and a set of leather club chairs. There were rows of fresh canvas waiting to come to life, and an endless array of artwork that she had already finished. 

He walked towards them. “Can I look?”

For the first time that evening he saw that startled deer expression again.

“I guess,” she said, as though fearing his rejection. “Most of those aren’t going to any galleries. They’re just studies”.

And then she laughed as she switched on her bedroom light, quickly distracting him.

“Hugo! There you are!”

For a moment he cringed, for as strangely sublime the evening had been going, he was certain this finally had to be the flaw. She either had a child, or a boyfriend or if he was supremely lucky, maybe just a cat. His back stiffened, sadistically expecting the former, and was genuinely shocked to see her emerge from the room with a giant beast in tow.

“Fuck!” He couldn’t help his reaction. 

The dog was at least 200 pounds and almost seemed like a small horse. It was fawn colored with a darker face that could only be described as ugly, especially when its mouth opened to a giant loll of pink tongue, strings of saliva threatening to drop from his massive jowls. 

“You didn’t strike me as a dog person,” he said awkwardly.

She bit on her lower lip. “Daddy insisted. He wanted me to have protection. Hugo’s one of his dogs. He loves English Mastiffs. But Hugo’s an old guy really. Mostly just a couch potato. As it turns out, he’s not much protection at all”.

“Well, I imagine he rarely gets challenged when he looks like that!”

She grinned wryly. “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Experience has proven that he’s all bark and no bite, but he’s got a ravenous appetite if someone else does the work of killing it first.”

He laughed. “I’ll bet his food bills are impressive.”

“Well, he has high standards!” she grinned. “Top choice sirloin for him, the fresher the better.”

Liam shook his head, watching the giant animal lazily sink down by her feet with an audible groan. “So what does Daddy do anyways? To afford topping you up on this fabulous place in this fabulous city, and feeding this dog all this fabulous steak?”

She perched on the barstool in front her kitchen counter and swung around to face him.

“Well… if you want to know the truth… he’s an inventor for the deaf.”

He laughed uncertainly. “No, really…”

“No really!” she insisted. “Have you heard of smoke alarms for the hearing impaired?”

He was sure she was pulling his leg, but he didn’t have the heart to insult this generous deaf father if he indeed so existed. Especially if he had taken part in creating something as extraordinary as Estella Starr.

“Well,” she went on, “instead of making noise, it creates a smell, like a strong unpleasant odour that wakes you up. He uses black pepper – it’s the strongest scene to the olfactory senses to wake people up out of a deep sleep. That and wasabi works well too”.

“You’re telling me he creates smoke alarms that smells like wasabi.”

She laughed. “Well you asked!”

He thought it over in all its inane simplicity. Of course the deaf needed a way to remain safe, other than using the monstrous looks of beasts like Hugo to keep the bad guys at bay. 

“It’s interesting,” he admitted finally. “But why not just use the smell of something burning.”

She looked confused for a moment and then laughed. “I know you’re right, hey? I never thought of it that way.”

Or,” he continued, walking up to her slowly. “Why is it only strong acrid smells like pepper and wasabi? Why don’t delicious smells wake people up?”

Her lips curled up with a smile as he touched the smooth contour of her cheek. “Like maybe fresh baked bread… or ripened figs?”

Everything in him felt alive and electric for the first time. Every other beautiful girl he had bedded seemed a pale watercolor memory compared to the vibrant shades of Estella Starr. She was infinitely interesting and endlessly exciting to him. And there he was, suddenly given a key to her inner world, and he couldn’t wait to walk through the door.

She slipped off her stool, and took his hand in her small cold one, and smiled at him with her head tilted to one side, moving backwards towards the bedroom, her boots sliding audibly across the floor as she teasingly led him forward. 

“I think,” she was saying slowly, “that a sweeter smell when we’re dreaming only encourages the dream to continue. I think we need the scent of something unexpected and almost shocking to wake us up.”

He couldn’t stop staring at her strawberry mouth as he pretended to reluctantly be dragged. The truth was he was anything but reluctant, but it was easy to lose direction when she was talking or moving, or even standing still. She was just a haze of infatuation for him, and it was hard to concentrate on what she was saying. There was something immediately familiar about her, and then something completely different to anything he had ever experienced.

“Don’t you think so?” she asked, stopping just inside the darkened bedroom, as though his answer might determine whether he received a pass to move forward.

He struggled to remember the question.

“I… think…. “ And then he paused. “Absolutely…”

She laughed, probably knowing he had forgotten everything she had said before.

“You’re a regular psychology experiment for me Liam”.

He was embarrassed. “I’m sorry. It’s hard to concentrate on smoke alarms when the fire is right in front of me.”

Her mouth twisted up into a wry smile. “And you aren’t even afraid of getting burned?”

He shook his head, his hands moving around her small waist.

“Nope… wanna know why?”

She was game for a clever answer. “Ok, why?”

He picked her up easily and they both fell back onto her bed, as she squealed. For a moment he was amazed to have her laying there beneath him, her long hair fanned out on the white flocked bedspread.

“Because,” he said, his finger tracing the beautiful shape of her mouth. “I can smell wasabi!”

Her eyes were alight with amusement, and she kissed the tip of his finger.

“No you can’t… all you smell are sweet figs.”

She didn’t wait for him to kiss her, her head lifted from the bed, her hand curling around his neck to draw his lips to her. He could taste the blood oranges from her martini as she gently sucked his lower lip into her mouth all the while keeping with her eyes wide open and fixed on his. He had never kept his eyes open like while he kissed a girl, but then he realized, before this moment, he had never wanted to. 

With lips locked, he fumbled with the buttons on her dress, all of his senses heightened at the thought of finally having her. The little deer he had imagined her to be was quickly replaced by a predatory mouth, and hands that tugged at his belt buckle without any virginal hesitations. Like a hunter efficiently skinning its prey, she removed his layers, as hungry for his body as he was for hers. And hers was a masterpiece. He had imagined what she might be like during those months he had watched her on their common scene, and she easily outdid his imagination. 

Her skin was like crème fraiche, her breasts were soft and round and finished by a dollop of pink nipples that had their own curves and peaks. Her belly led like a valley to core of her wet warmth that opened up to him with a primal need that surprised him. 

Possessing a woman had never been something that he’d seen as that special to him. Physical pleasures seemed to come and go in his world, but she had quickly imprinted herself on him in a way that seemed permanent and forever changing. She moved with him with a kind of violence, provoking his instincts, lifting up to meet him, nails flexing into his flushed skin, her amber-green eyes focused on his, looking into him. Her body, and taste and touch and smell had become an almost religious experience for him. And even after they had climaxed, she held him still against her, breathing hard, not wanting their bodies to untwine. And instead of insisting on having his space, he was happy to stay inside her, feeling her wet flesh surrounding him, continuing to pulsate with her ever-present need. 

That first night was pure rapture. They were insatiable with their explorations, and Liam never tired of her, always happy to see her eyes on him when he awoke from a rare moment of sleep, not minding that she reached for him, lustful and convincing until he was hard and ready to experience her again.

The next morning when he finally woke from his most prolonged attempt at sleep, he found she was already out of bed. He put on his boxers, running his hands through his mop of hair and wandered out into the main loft. He caught the back of her first; wearing a long white t-shirt that barely covered her bottom. She had a fold out table that had several pots of paint and she was standing up, a piece of canvas, stretched over its frame was set on her easel. She stood there contemplative, a long brush in one hand, hip thrust out. The sun was filtering through the windows, hitting her hair like a beam of light, and it was like champagne lace all over again. She half turned, as if suddenly aware he was watching her and did a half smile.

“Hey.”

“Good morning.”

“I didn’t want to wake you.”

He laughed. “It didn’t seem to concern you last night.”

“Sorry,” she giggled. “It’s been a while. And you were… really nice.”

He was openly admiring and he shook his head. 

“You were spectacular.”

She smirked. “Ah the morning-after flattery. I’ve forgotten how that feels. Do you want something to eat?” She motioned to the bowl of fruit on her counter.

He shook his head, and wandered over to where she was standing, wanting to see what she was painting. He had half forgotten in his haste to have her last night, that he hadn’t even seen any of her art. It was unusual for him to be so physically satiated by a girl and still be intrigued enough to care what she was doing the next day. So often, he would be making excuses to leave, but on that outwardly unremarkable Wednesday morning, he was still inexorably fascinated.

The canvas was awash with color, dominant reds with an abstract language of linear lines and shapes that almost looked like a face in profile from certain angles. He didn’t understand modern art. In some ways he thought that even he would be capable of abstract expressionism like this. But the fact that she was painting it made it seem more impressive than he would have thought otherwise.

“I was inspired,” she said.

“By what?”

She smiled up at him; her eyes alight. “You, silly.”

He laughed, happy to find evidence that the obsessive infatuation was mutual.

“Is the picture of me?”

“It’s part of you,” she said. “But I need to know more before I can finish it.”

“What’s that?”

She put the paint-brush down, and put her hands on her hips, smirking playfully.

“I know you’re not a lawyer.”

For a moment, he was caught off-guard.

“What makes you so sure.”

She shrugged. “I’ve known some lawyers. You’re not like them at all.”

He wasn’t sure if she meant it to be flattering or insulting and so, he continued to fish.

“Well, I told you I’m taking some time off, to figure things out.”

“Listen Liam… lawyers never take time off, not at your age at least. You would have to be five years fresh out of the Bar. What’s there to take time off for? If you were really a lawyer these would be the best years, before you get jaded and overworked and start a steady diet of painkillers and amphetamines.”

He was impressed with her logic and considered again that he had likely underestimated the girl. It almost unnerved him because he wasn’t used to being out of the driver’s seat. But then he realized this was exactly what he had always wanted, someone who could keep him on his toes, and slow down that long-rolling wave of boredom that eventually always seemed to crash ashore.

“Maybe I’m smarter than all that,” he suggested, hooking his finger into the vee of her t-shirt, tugging at it until it offered him a glimpse of her braless curves. 

She just stood there, unabashed about the forced nudity, or attempt to distract her. In fact it was almost like she hadn’t noticed it at all.

“I’m not doubting the smarts. And I think you’re good at what you do. I just don’t think you do what you say you do.”

“What do you think I do?” he asked, taking a step closer to inhale the scent of her. It was like the air after a summer lightning storm.

She seemed amused by his attentions, but she was unrelenting in the path of her thoughts.

“I think you’re a boy of the world… exploring, enjoying, and being a pleasure loving hedonist, while leaving the consequences to someone else.”

“Something wrong with that?”

“No,” she said, her eyes open and honest. “I’m a dreamer too. Reality can be so limiting. I’m not one for responsibility; not to life, and not to anybody but myself. Funny, my sister was always going to her therapist because of low self-esteem. She thought she was filled with flaws, and blamed everything in her life on her own self-imposed sense of worthlessness. Personally, I’ve never understood it. In fact I can’t even make sense of it. The only person I’ve ever loved has been me. And isn’t that the healthier way to be? People are always imagining life is there to tear you down, instead of bringing you pleasure. It’s always a choice. Some people run from life. Me - I just spread my legs for it.”

He laughed, amazed by the unusual connections her mind seemed to make. It was like she had been wired by a different creator, whose language he intuitively understood.

“So when you spread your legs for life… does it make you cum?”

She went up on her toes, heavy lids half closed, to softly bite his lower lip.

“Every single time.”

He pulled her roughly against him, and they collapsed on the floor, bruising skin against the worn pine but not caring. Red paint stained hands were all over him, leaving their imprint on his body. They were under the harsh glare of the sun, but she was glorious in her nudity, unconcerned about what she looked like, or sounded like, or smelled like, and it excited him. So many women were a slave to their insecurities, but true to her word, she was her own greatest fan, happy to expose every part of who she was. It was perhaps because of this, that when she continued prodding him about how he made his way in life, that he opened himself up to his greatest vulnerability.

He didn’t tell her exactly how he survived financially, but he didn’t deny her careful line of questions that led him suggestively down that path. At first he was concerned she was one of those typical New York girls, looking for a man with a bit of gold to shower her with and wanting to confirm it upfront. But she seemingly had her own bit of luck set up with this luxe Soho loft, and certainly Daddy kept her comfortable regardless of whether she ever sold a painting. In fact the thing that surprised and impressed him most, was that she seemed almost encouraging of the lifestyle. The smart ones didn’t work hard, they worked effectively, she thought. And the world was filled with cattle, and a lesser number of cattle drivers, and in all that fuss on the farm, all she really wanted was rib eye. And if it was served to her, why deny herself the feast?

“So who’s the cattle driver on your ranch, Liam?” she asked as they lay naked in their mess of paint and sweat on the floor.

He was contemplative, not quite believing she really wanted to hear the answer.

“No specific cattle driver,” he said finally.

She grinned. “Oh come on. If you’re eating sirloin, there’s always a cattle driver. How old is she?"

He laughed nervously. “You’re crazy!”

“Yes, that may be true. But seriously, you know I’m right. And believe me, I think you’re smarter for it. Women have been using men since the dawn of time. It’s always amazed me that it doesn’t go both ways more often. Of course outside of the city, men tend to be the breadwinners. But New York is a playground for blue-blood tail. And I know you…”

He shook his head, amazed with her tenacity and persistence. Estella’s eyes were alight, completely entertained with the entire concept, pushing him and goading him and wanting the great confession.

“OK, there’s someone, ” he admitted, finally convinced this is what she wanted to hear, but still feeling like he was walking in unfamiliar and potentially dangerous territory. He searched her eyes for a reaction, but all he saw was a rush of delight and she squealed, rolling over onto her elbows, excited.

“Tell me, tell me, tell me!!”

He raised his eyebrows, confused by this unprecedented encouragement. Not even Randall approved of his extra-curricular dating habits. And really it wasn’t dating in so much as companionship that he provided in exchange for financial favors, whether it was in the form of gifts, or ‘loans’, as he preferred to call them, although knowing full well this was the type of loan that would never require repayment. Certainly it made it all sound better than the suggestion that he was some sort of escort, or seedy gigolo. And he did have a certain fondness for the women in his life. They were all remarkable in at least one way, and he could always find a level of appreciation that he considered genuine. Alas, there were no Estella Starrs that had ever courted him with such financial rewards, but needless to say life had never proved to be that kind.

He turned to her now, this girl with the animated Disney eyes, and the wide carnivorous smile, her chin cradled by her paint-stained hands, elbows splayed on the floor.

“Are you gonna tell me or what?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Everything… her name, her age, how she got her money? Did she make it herself, or did she have her own cattle driver?”

He hesitated for a moment, not quite believing he was about to talk about the woman he had slept with merely hours before he had met Estella. But yet, after this auspicious connection, the thought of any other woman seemed an inconceivable desire, and so he had already relegated Deidre to a thing of the past before he started talking about her.

Estella listened as though he was spinning a fantastic tale, hanging on his every word, wanting to know odd details like her ring size, and whether she was a natural blond, and where she shopped, and whether she had fucked him while she was married. He felt distinctly uncomfortable talking about Deidre with this girl, but Estella seemed so genuinely entertained by the story, that he didn’t have the heart to end what could only be described as ‘fun’ for her. She laughed at his descriptions, joked with him about not knowing her real age, and then, seemingly satiated, rolled onto her back again to stare up at the ceiling, suddenly quiet.

“Is she good in bed?”

“No.”

“Does she give blow jobs?”

“Yes.”

There was a pause, and he could almost hear her smile. “Does she swallow?”

“No.”

She squealed, “I knew it!”

He reached for her, wanting to hold her in his arms, partly because he felt so awkward about discussing sex with another women in front of this girl who was now the only one he wanted. Did she not have a jealous bone in her body?

“Surely you don’t really want to hear about this anymore,” he said, hoping for confirmation, so they could move on to something less potentially inflammatory.

“Funny… I think you’re more uncomfortable with it than I am.”

“I’m not uncomfortable.”

“Honestly Liam… I think it’s brilliant! Not everyone can get away with something like that. But like I said last night, you’re cute, and the rules just don’t apply. But think about how clever this is. Here you are Wednesday and its not even noon, and you’re laying here naked with me. I think it’s fucking brilliant!”

“It’s not that I don’t want to work,” he said, still feeling like he had to counter her enthusiasm.

“Work is for sheep,” she said dismissively, “You are I are sybarites; lovers of pleasure. In Aristotle’s time we would have spent our days making love and philosophizing and here we live in this era that seems to only applaud slaving to the Corporation, and socialism, and more work for less pay and god forbid you take vacation time. You know a friend of mine didn’t even want to take her full maternity leave because she was convinced her replacement was trying to permanently steal her job! It’s madness!”

He half considered that he was in some inadvertent twilight zone, or that the universe had sent him his own intellectual doppelganger. She understood him implicitly, and in turn, he understood her. Everything she said confirmed his own private logic. He hadn’t ever believed in the concept of soul mates, and he knew he had never really been in love, but every moment he spent with Estella unnerved him. There was nothing familiar about this terrain, but he felt he was walking it with someone he already knew.

She went on with her train of thought. “People just seem so content to piss away their lives trying to achieve something that, if you’re smart, can literally be handed to you on a silver platter.”

“Work is for the cattle,” he agreed, starting to enjoy sharing his long-held revelations with someone who implicitly understood its validity.

“And,” she went on; getting excited again, “What awaits the cattle after all their years of boredom, eating off the same uninspired piece of grass, and drinking poisoned rainwater from the trough? A date with the butcher! And well before old age. Better to cut them off in their prime lest they ever find the wisdom to know they were just dirty workhorses on old McDonalds farm. Can you even imagine the irony?”

Liam thought of his brother, and the self-imposed butchery of jumping out of his 53rd storey office building. They had to have a closed casket. His mother had been wrecked on valiums and vodka ever since.

He turned to look at her, tracing the outline of her profile with his gaze, not understanding how he could possibly want her more. Her face tilted towards him, her large eyes appearing like pools of green in the late morning sun.

“What?” she asked innocently, her lips turning up at the corners.

“Where on earth did you come from lady?” he asked in amazement.

She pretended to think it over. “The Enchanted Forest?”

“No doubt.”

“You’re just soured by American girls,” she went on. “Feminism has produced all the wrong priorities. More pride, less street smarts. And far too many hairy armpits!”

He laughed and curled in against her. He had found his Shangri-La, his Garden of Eden, and his first genuine ‘high’. His brother had always told him that he had the luck of the Irish, and surely he now agreed, after having found his lucky "Starr".

... to be continued.

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Author's Note: This is the first chapter of an unfinished novel.

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