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It was the first night of Fashion Week and the day had gone well. Jada and some of her employees went out for drinks after work and ordinarily, she would have gone home around 11 to be rested at work tomorrow. But, Ayano was hanging out at some Bulgarian bar called Musala and asked her to come. Telling herself she would just stay for one or two drinks, she took the subway over to the Lower East Side. 

The only people she knew were Ayano and Sergei. The rest of the people at their tables resembled Sergei; suspicious, withdrawn, tough guy types. It was definitely not her scene, but she joined them anyway. At least everyone was speaking English. With all the languages between them, English was the common ground. 

Ayano introduced her to everyone, giving the briefest and vaguest of descriptions of them, like “he sells heavy machinery” or “he works for the railroad.” There were a few women scattered around, but none with any self-respect, as far as Jada could tell. Some of the men were treating them like pieces of meat, making lewd remarks about their physique and demanding they go fetch them anything they wanted. Ayano seemed oblivious.

They had just made some kind of business agreement and were toasting to each other’s success and virtues. Shots of different liquors and brandies were plentiful. Ayano took shot after shot, offering some to Jada, but she had to slow down. She was uncomfortable, didn’t know hardly anyone, and was just not having a good time. He also offered her coke, which she refused, too, but he was flying. He made her take a few more shots, even though she said she didn’t want them.

Sergei was making out with one of the women by the payphones in back. The woman was so drunk or so submissive that she let him expose her breasts to the whole room as they fooled around. Jada was stunned. This was Gotham City, what the fuck was going on here? She had enough.

“Let’s go, Ayano… please, let’s get out of here,” she whispered urgently into his ear. The room was starting to spin. Ayano took out his phone and dialed, telling someone to pick him up in Romanian. 

“Yeah, okay, we’re going, iubi,” he told her, standing up. Jada stumbled as she rose so Ayano put her arm over his shoulders to help her along. He said goodbye to a couple people but Jada could not track what was happening. 

Nikos was waiting at the curb, holding open the door to Ayano’s Rolls Royce. Ayano gave him some instructions as Jada tried to hold herself upright in the back seat. When he got in, he kissed her neck and her shoulder, moving aside her shirt and her bra strap. 

“Stop, Ayano,” she said, closing her eyes. Nikos was driving slowly and carefully. Ayano continued to kiss her cleavage. The red light coming from the brake lights in front of them filled the car, making her boyfriend look like a villain in a Scorsese movie. Jada glanced up at the driver’s rear view mirror and made fleeting eye contact with Nikos. Did he look concerned? Or was he just trying to catch a glimpse of her tits? 

“You should have done some coke, baby. You want some?” he asked, his hands touching her, begging her to disrobe. Her mind focused on his heavy breathing, the exposed feeling of her low-cut shirt and that anyone could be watching. She knew what could be found erotic about this setup, but she couldn’t make herself feel that way. 

“No, Ayano. Please. I don’t feel well,” she said, struggling to move away from him a few inches. It was no use. She closed her eyes again and turned off her brain, letting him grope and fondle her however he chose to. Her awareness returned when the car stopped in front of his house. She could barely get up the stairs, even with Ayano’s assistance. Once they were inside, he carried her up to the bedroom. 

“Jada, do some coke, you’ll feel better,” he said manically as he stripped off her shoes, pants, and shirt. 

“Ayano, please. Not tonight. I told you I didn’t want any more shots,” she protested, laying back on the bed. She fumbled to find the covers and get under. Ayano undressed and joined her. 

“Please, baby… just a little while. I want to make love to you so badly.” He caressed her lasciviously everywhere he could reach. 

“Ayano, I can’t do anything. I didn’t like that bar or those people, I can’t,” she whined. “I’m too drunk.”

“Let me eat your pussy, you won’t have to do anything,” he compromised, his fingertips wooing her at the edge of her panties.

“Okay, but that’s it, then I’m going to sleep,” she submitted, taking them off along with her bra. Ayano took the sheets and covers off of her. She looked up at the ceiling, trying to look at something to keep the room from spinning around her. She felt him playfully bite the insides of her thighs, which ordinarily would have been thrilling. His tongue swiped her pussy up and down and his lips gently squeezed her labia, pulling and teasing her. She felt his thumb press against her clit, becoming engorged with arousal in a purely physical response. He was going faster, she sensed he was expecting her to do something to show him he was good at this. She made some obligatory moaning sounds and gyrated her hips a little, hoping this small encouragement would send him on his way faster. 

He reached up and grabbed her tits with both hands, plummeting his tongue deep inside her. She made an involuntary noise in surprise, only encouraging his sexual ambitions. He pushed her legs back further, his tongue now wandering perilously close to anilingus. 

“Fuck, Ayano, you know I don’t--” she started to complain.

“Alright, alright. Just cum for me, baby…” he encouraged her. Jada tried to ignore the thoughts of irritation to concentrate on her performance. He knew the precise movements to get her off. He put two fingers inside her pussy and licked her clitoris alternately. Admittedly, it was feeling pretty good, but Jada was not in a place, mentally, where she could orgasm, so she faked it. She felt obligated to perform for him, no matter what her condition. He kissed her mouth, lobbying for an extension of his access. She turned her back to him. That was enough.

“That was it, I told you,” she grumbled. “And if I feel your dick poking me I’m gonna fucking lose it, Ayano.” Exhausted, she fell sound asleep very soon. 

In the middle of the night, she awoke to use the bathroom. She was half awake and still very drunk, but a part of her knew the white substance coming from her pussy could only be Ayano’s semen. Her mind shut down this acknowledgement, not accepting that the love of her life would be so selfish and awful that he would fuck her while she was unconscious. She wouldn’t remember this consciously for a very long time, instead telling herself she was too drunk to know what she saw.

In the morning, she initiated sex with him. She wanted her hands all over him, all of her senses devoted to forgetting what she still had an inkling of from the night before. Ayano took advantage of her unexplained neediness and made an extravagant effort to make her cum. This is what it took to convince herself that he was worthy of her affection. 




The next day of Fashion Week was hell for Jada. She was really hungover and underslept but still had to make a lot of decisions, move quickly, and turn on the charm for their second event in the evening. Everyone had been out partying with someone the night before. The kitchenette at the gallery had become an ad hoc hangover station- many people were still feeling the effects of the previous night and were teaming up to recover. There was no time for everyone to buy each thing they needed. Jada made a system- she taped a list to the fridge and left a jar of cash. On their break, everyone should buy something on the list. Someone brought a 6-pack of cold gatorade, someone else brought in egg and cheeses from the bodega, Pepto-Bismol, Tylenol, ginger tea, extra coffee-- anything useful was pooled together. Jada was just starting to feel human again when the first bottle of champagne was opened.

The rest of Fashion Week proceeded in a similarly busy, collaborative manner, but Jada decided to not drink for the next three nights. It helped her performance at work considerably. The exhibit on Friday night was the best one so far! 

A few important people attended the party and the exhibit was well-received: all of the pieces were sold. She had had a few glasses of champagne at the gallery. It was hard to remember exactly how many, having been able to pick up a glass from one of the many trays flying around the room without a second thought. All she knew was that she had sold a lot of artwork, talked to a couple celebrities, and felt amazing. Ayano wanted to meet up again tonight at Musala, so Jada would let the crew close up. She left at ten to go meet him. She had earned a little personal time, right? Even though she didn’t like the bar very much, she was in such a good mood that she could be talked into just about anything. 

Upon arrival, Ayano led her straight to a table in the back. There were Dimitru, Sergei, and Nikos, and he introduced her to the others.

“Jada, this is Luca, Miyuki, Miksa, Louie, Valko, and Nadia. Everyone, this is my girlfriend Jada. She owns the Versailles art gallery,” he said briefly, pulling up two chairs next to Luca and Miyuki. They sat down as the group drunkenly greeted them. Jada spoke with Miyuki as Ayano caught up with Luca. Miyuki was a very beautiful Japanese woman in her late twenties or early thirties with dark eye makeup and a nose ring. Jada told her about her time in Japan and they talked about Gotham’s Japanese scene. Ayano disappeared with Nikos and Luca. A few minutes later, he reappeared and handed her a Cosmo. He also nudged her subtly.

“Do you want to try a pill? It’s called Venus, it’s like an acid and ecstasy combination but much milder,” he asked her. She saw no reason to object.

“Yeah! Let’s do it. Is anyone else on it?” she asked.

“Miyuki, Luca, and Nadia are at the moment,” he said, reaching into his inside jacket pocket for the pills. He put one on her tongue and she grabbed his wrist so she could hold his finger in her mouth for a moment flirtatiously. He watched her lips shimmer in their coral glossy coat and pucker as he withdrew his finger. They smiled at him, just in case he had forgotten what they had to offer. If, for even one moment, he hadn’t recalled one of the many reasons he adored her: her subtle entanglement with him at all times. Jada then took a sip of her cocktail to wash down the pill and gazed back at him, as if she had no idea why he was looking at her so intently. 

For a little more than half an hour, Jada got acquainted with the group, all of whom had some connection to the Balkans. People were coming and going all night, everyone shifting seats between the booth side of the table and the chairs or getting up to get more drinks at the bar. Jada stopped at the jukebox and picked out some electronica music when she became aware of the effects of the pill. The location of sounds seemed to constantly change and all of the lights in the room were brighter. She closed her eyes and saw Rorschach-like visual hallucinations. She went back to the table and sat next to Ayano on the booth side. 

“I feel it, do you feel it?” she whispered in his ear. 

“Yeah. I’m getting a body buzz, seeing some things. You?” he asked, rubbing her thigh under the table. Her short black skirt had several decorative silver zippers so he slipped his hand beneath it. 

“That feels good…” she said, kissing him. “The bassline of this song is cool, it’s like the lights are blinking with it… and I can’t decide if I’m hot or cold…”

“I need some water. Do you want one?” he asked, smiling and continuing to touch her sensually. His black hair, which he normally wore tied back, was enshrouding his face. He looked like he could be a bass player in some cool band, she thought.

“Mmm hmm. Come back quick,” she sighed. She finished her drink, which only made her mouth more dry. Miyuki glanced at her from across the table.

“You tried the Venus, too? How do you like it?” she asked, her eyes appearing to sparkle in Jada’s perception.

“I like it a lot. Where’s it from? Who got it?”

“Luca brought it back from London. It’s not really big in the US,” Miyuki told her, lighting a cigarette and sliding over the ashtray. “I think your guy is my guy’s boss.”

“Luca is your guy? Is he from Romania?” 

“Yeah. I haven’t been there, though. I met him here in Gotham when I was still dancing,” Miyuki said baldly. Jada was sure that she was talking about stripping, not that she particularly disapproved. Lots of good people did less-than-socially-acceptable things to survive, she always thought. 

“I was just in Bucharest with Ayano. It’s beautiful. I like how Europeans are really friends with the guys they work with, you know? Not like here, where everything is too personal, or Japan, where you have to worry constantly about saving face,” she chattered. She didn’t feel speedy or nervous, just relaxed and enjoying the illusory closeness with people that were nearly strangers.

“Yeah, I got out of Japan the second I could. So many ways to be polite and extra polite if you’re a woman. Women are like, property over there. European men are so… open. I never have to worry about shocking Luca,” Miyuki said, glancing over at her boyfriend with a sly smile as she sipped her drink. Luca was sitting at the end of the table with Dimitru and Nikos having an animated discussion in Romanian. He wore his short auburn hair in a caesar cut and had a dark blue suit with a black T-shirt underneath. It looked like he had it tailored just nicely enough so he wouldn’t be mistaken for a guy from Jersey, although its slight shininess may still suggest otherwise, Jada noted. 

“I hated that about visiting my dad over there. Only the women had to be chirpy and delicate and servile. I even had to learn the tea ceremony!” Jada grimaced.

“I did, too! It was the most boring thing in the world for a 10 year old!” Miyuki laughed, continuing with other stories about incense, flower arranging, and other ways their parents nearly bored them to death in their younger years.

Ayano returned to Jada’s side, sitting close to her on the vinyl bench. He waited patiently for the women to finish their chatting before he started speaking.

Iubi, I brought you some water,” he told her, kissing her shoulder affectionately. They jumped in and out of various conversations at the table for almost an hour. Jada realized she really had to go the bathroom. Standing up and walking around made her notice how affected she was by the pill and drinks.

“Parts of this room look pixelated…” she told Ayano as she returned to his side. She looked around the room, wide-eyed. He put an arm around her and rubbed her thigh with his other hand.

“I’m so comfortable… you feel so good…” he murmured, kissing her with an intensity usually reserved for more private moments. Jada normally would have asked him to stop or requested that they go home, but her sensory experiences were overriding the parts of her brain that made balanced decisions. She hallucinated ripples surrounding his fingertips-- spreading his aura-- on her skin and imagined warmth and comfort spreading throughout her body. 

Ayano was kissing her on the left side of her neck, but she felt someone kissing her right cheek. Miyuki had come over to sit beside her, gently kissing her and awaiting further invitation. Ayano watched and positioned himself so others might not see them as easily. As Miyuki kissed her, Jada closed her eyes and hallucinated things beaming, blurring, and oozing. She was prepared to let the kissing continue, but when she felt Miyuki’s hand go up her skirt below the table, she felt concerned. Not alarmingly concerned or anywhere near the appropriate level of concern, but a pipsqueak-sized objection floated around her consciousness. She gently took Miyuki’s hand and guided it away from her lap, but Ayano swooped in to help the rest of her ignore the objections that were popping up. 

The rest of her, the part that felt elated, stimulated, and connected-- that was the side he wanted to play with. He kissed her with great effort to make her forget her objections. Jada was not very attracted to Japanese people, the culture reminding her of lovelessness, and she was not the kind of person who did sex stuff at the bar. Didn’t she just say she didn’t want to do stuff in public? But she and Ayano- their connection felt so strong to her. She didn’t want to disappoint him-- his emotional state was a higher priority than anything else, even herself.

Miyuki took advantage of the distraction and slid down under the table. Jada felt Miyuki’s fingers grab the waistband of her panties and pull them downward until they were hanging on her ankle. What should she do? Jada’s consciousness could only handle so much input at once: heightened tactile sensations, auditory hallucinations, and visual hallucinations had all combined with the sweet lies alcohol told her. It all slowed her reaction time considerably. She couldn’t tell how long anything else was taking, either-- another effect of the substances was the complete loss of the passage of time. One minute? Five? Twenty? She couldn’t tell. 

She looked down to see if what she thought was happening was really happening. It was. Her eyes met Ayano’s and she looked worried, uncomfortable, but Ayano resumed kissing her and then Miyuki’s lips kissed her labia. Miyuki took in the fragrance of her pussy as she set her tongue out to find Jada’s clit. Jada moved her mouth to say something to Ayano, but he continued on his mission of making her forget the reasons she should stop. Her cheeks were flushed in the effort of concealing her arousal and discomfort from the others at the table. Everyone at the table had to be at least 10 years older than her. They all knew what they were doing, she thought. She was a fly in their spiderweb. 

“Fuck, you’re so sexy, baby… how does that feel?” Ayano whispered to her. Miyuki pulled her hips forward on the seat, and roughly spread her shy legs further apart. She was lapping up all the wetness she could. Jada looked down and watched the woman’s delicate fingers arrange her flesh, spreading her labia and rubbing her clit as she stuck her tongue inside her. Her features were so soft and feminine. Jada hallucinated the lights dancing around them as her thoughts became only images and sensations that she tried to combine into a narrative. She was aware that she should say something back to Ayano but had honestly forgotten not only what she should say but also how talking happened. 

At first, she thought she wasn’t going to be able to cum and was about to tell Miyuki to get up and stop. Then, she thought she had to pee. No, she had just went a second ago… She was definitely getting turned on. When Miyuki’s tongue pressed hard on her clit and made a circular motion, Jada came, making her think that her whole being was pulsating in harmony with the music and sound and light. Jada had to hide her face on Ayano’s shoulder and bit it hard to avoid making a sound. Ayano made an erotic wincing sound, and clutched her thigh in return. 

“I love to see a woman’s tongue and lips all over your pussy, baby…” Ayano whispered. He went on about something else, but she couldn’t track everything. 

She saw him pass two more drinks down the table as Miyuki came back up. Jada put down her glass after a long sip and Miyuki did the same and then got closer. The two women kissed discreetly at first, or at least they thought they were. In a matter of seconds, they were practically climbing each other. Ayano looked on, appearing both transfixed and starved. Jada felt obligated to repay the orgasm, but she hadn’t exactly encouraged Miyuki to get under the table. Mainly, she felt very uncomfortable making eye contact with her and at least if they were making out, she could avoid it. But she could sense Ayano was watching and liked it. She felt completely divided about continuing to fool around with this woman. 

A few tables away, someone broke some glass. The room went silent and when everyone saw it was just a drunk guy, the room applauded sarcastically. The loud sound had broken the spell. 

The two women both looked around to see if anyone was ogling them, vague awareness returning to their surroundings. Most of the men had looked away, requiring little guile to conceal their ongoing interest. Ayano told her they were leaving and she gave Miyuki a bashful wave goodbye. Her underwear remained on the floor under the table. She barely had time to grab her purse before he took her hand and brought her up to the front quickly. He asked the bouncer something in Romanian.




“Where are we going?” Jada asked, concentrating on not wobbling in her heels. The autumn wind was picking up.

“There’s a hotel up the block. I can’t wait to get you all the way back home, iubi,” he said, staring at her in frenzied desire. He held her hand, walking as fast as her footwear would permit. When he entered the hotel, he spoke to the front desk lady with a calm, debonair affect. Jada didn’t know how he managed to pull it off, she was feeling very unusual and couldn’t imagine trying to have a conversation with a stranger who wasn’t even inebriated. The lobby was lit too brightly for her. She lingered a few steps behind him. 

Ayano let the front desk employee take an impression of his credit card and signed on a piece of carbon paper. She handed over a tiny envelope with a magnetic keycard inside, a marker of the hotel’s modernity. 

“What the fuck is wrong with metal keys?” he asked, but quickly discarded his irritation. He held Jada preciously in the elevator on the way up to their floor and quickly brought her to their room. The next thing Jada knew, she was waking up in a strange bed with only the vaguest recollection of the night before. 

She saw Ayano next to her. Good, she thought, so far so good. She gathered they were in a hotel, a nice one. Her head hurt and her body ached. When and why did they go to a hotel? She could remember tripping on the pills they took, seeing lots of different weird visuals and having a body buzz. Feeling connected to everyone. Everyone at that fucking bar, she thought. Then, her heart froze in horror. She remembered what had happened. The angst and remorse temporarily paralyzed her. She had been making out with that Japanese woman. Even worse, she let the woman go under the table and eat her out. In public, at a sleazy bar, in front of people she knew. Horrified, Jada took a deep breath and put her hands to her forehead.

Maybe nobody knew, she thought, trying to console herself. But it seemed unlikely. She remembered the close proximity of everyone at the back table. Even if the table had been less crowded, the idea that Ayano’s friends would not notice two beautiful women doing something sexual was laughable. Laughable if it weren’t so stunningly shameful. 

Jada didn’t know what to do. It was true that she had just talked to Ayano about doing sexual things in public, but it was also true that she didn’t exactly forbid last night from happening. She could have stood up and gotten out of there, but she didn’t. What did she think was going to happen at Musala? Her thoughts could keep battling it out, she decided, while she got up and got on with her day. Fashion Week was nearly over, there was a possibility that people would buy more artwork tonight and then the busy time would be over.

On the way to the bathroom, Jada saw the twisted white belt of a terry cloth robe on the floor but no robe in sight. There were empty mini-bottles of liquor and the roach of a joint in the ashtray. She performed a modified version of her morning routine. In the middle of her shower, her heart stopped again as it choked on a memory of the previous night. They had been using the robe’s belt for bondage. 

She and Ayano had sex the second they got into the hotel room. Then, he wanted to smoke a joint with her afterward and it seemed to amplify the effects of the Venus pill and the booze. Jada had already been pretty fucked up, but the pot opened a gateway of total discoordination and struggle for consciousness. She remembered barely being able to stay coherent but for some reason trying to hide this from Ayano. Why was she hell-bent on proving she could handle as many drinks and drugs as him? He was a fighter and probably had at least 40 pounds more body weight than she did. He had more mass to metabolize these things. Yet, she had wanted to keep playing, to match him, to please him and look sexy, instead of dropping out and going to sleep. Would it have been wrong to not even try, to just pass out? He paid for a hotel room! Plus, she couldn’t disappoint him. What if he found another more adventurous girlfriend? He was a catch, afterall! 

He had asked her if he could tie her up while he spanked her and she must have agreed. He tied her hands behind her back as she laid face-down on the bed. She remembered him spanking her and then pulling her hips up off the bed to play with her pussy and fuck her. She remembered making a point to moan for him even though she was too focused on not falling over and not throwing up to enjoy herself. Then, he tied her hands above her head and spread her legs wide to eat her pussy. They had fucked for a while because both of them had troubling climaxing on the Venus pill. 

She felt the water running down her body once more in the present moment. Jada wasn’t sure how to feel about the light bondage they did. When they had tried spanking for the first time, it was different. They were both sober and they talked the whole way through it. It seemed so much more intimate. 

What else had she done?! Out of everything she could piece together about the previous night, she was definitely the most ashamed of the stuff at the bar. How was she going to look at any of his friends anymore? How could she be around them when they knew how fucked up she had gotten? Women like that, who fucked strangers in front of other men, were whores. They weren't the kind of girls someone marries, her mother's voice said in her head.

Before her shame spiraled out of control, she shook the thoughts off and got out of the shower. As she toweled off, she saw Ayano at the sink brushing his teeth with a single-use hotel toothbrush. He spit and rinsed out his mouth.

“Hey, iubi,” he said fondly. She came over to him and gave him a kiss.

“My head hurts,” she groaned. 

“Yeah, we went a little nuts last night,” he grinned, kissing down her neck.

“Mmm,” she replied ambiguously. He hopped into the shower, leaving her alone with her thoughts once more. 

She put on last night’s clothes, always feeling out of place wearing evening clothes first thing in the morning. The girls at college called it "the walk of shame," because walking home in last night's clothes meant they did something stupid the night before (usually sexual) and ought to be ashamed of themselves. She tried not to count the mini-bottles of booze, but she couldn’t help it. She was playing detective with her own life. Tears kept slipping out of her eyes as she pretended to be cleaning up and looking for her things. Ayano came out of the bathroom in a towel. 

“What’s up, baby?” he asked, seeing the distress on her face.

“At the bar, I… under the table... I don’t want to do that again. Please don’t let me do stuff like that,” she said, surprised by how young and whiny she sounded. Ayano looked irked.

“It didn’t seem like you didn’t want to,” he said hesitantly, getting dressed slowly.

“I know, I know. I’m sorry, I just… well, I’m saying it now. I never want to go to Musala again. I don’t know how I’m ever going to look anybody in the eye,” she said, her voice hinting of despair. Ayano stayed quiet for a few beats as he finished getting dressed.

“Okay... but it was just a wild night. No one cares. No one would ever say anything to you to embarrass you,” he asserted.

“It’s not just them, it’s me. I don’t want to be like that,” she sniffed.

“Just at the bar or here with me, too?” he asked, frowning.

“Well, both. It’s just too much experimenting with the drugs and drinking and the--” she started to explain.

“Jada, do you think I’m just partying with you? That’s all this is?” he said, sounding offended.

“No--” she protested, getting flustered.

“Jada, I like being wild with you. I love going on adventures together,” he continued, volume rising. He looked around the room for his shoes and socks. “I’m not just some frat boy trying to get his dick wet. I’m not having a fucking midlife crisis or something. I thought you wanted this.” He was starting to sound angry.

“I mean, sometimes, yeah, I do--”

“If you don’t want to be with me, you may as well say so now,” he said.

“No! Of course I want to be with you, Ayano!” she said, feeling panicked. How had this turned on her?

“Don’t act like everything’s fine and then surprise me and say you’re not like that, like you’re some ordinary woman like everybody else and I CORRUPTED your innocence. Like our relationship is obscene!” he fumed. He was putting on his shoes in a hurry.

“Ayano, no, it’s not like that--”

“You called ME and came to Bucharest. You told ME you wanted to keep doing this. Why don’t you decide what the fuck you want?!” he said spitefully, grabbing his blazer off one of the chairs. 

“Ayano! Stop!” she cried, but it was too late. He slammed the door as he left. She looked around to see if she should find her shoes in time to catch up with him, but the room was too trashed and she was too hungover to find them right away. She dropped down on the bed. Maybe Ayano just needed some time to calm down. 

Looking around the room, she was feeling grim. Last night, she had been degrading herself in public, wasted out of her mind, tied up, and now she didn’t know if Ayano still wanted to be with her. Fear and sadness and shame were spiraling out of control inside her. 

She coughed up a few tears, feeling like she would erupt into sobs. Her body shook in muted weeping for a few moments but she stopped before the crying gathered momentum and took over. She found all her stuff, left a tip for the maid, and got out of there as quickly as possible. She got a cab home to change her clothes, picking out a recent purchase: a teal and black plaid mid-length dress adorned with black lace at the hem and a deep V-neck. She wore it with black stockings and short lace-up high heeled boots. Her hair she just put up in a messy bun. Grabbing her trench coat and makeup bag for later, she headed over to the gallery. 

To stay busy, she arranged the exhibit she had saved for the last night of Fashion Week. She waited as long as she could before she went to her office to call Ayano. There was no answer at his brownstone and his cell went to voicemail. 

“Ayano, please, I need to talk to you. I love you. I didn’t mean that I don’t want to be with you, I was just embarrassed. Please call me,” she said on the voice message. 

A few years later and a few years wiser, Jada would see what a good trick he had pulled. In order to keep her from talking about her comfort level and setting some boundaries, he threatened to withhold his affection. He always seemed to find a way to get what he wanted.

Jada worked several more hours at the gallery. Her employees trickled in, all of them just as hungover as she was but not nearly as miserable. But, their company helped her distract herself from the panicky, crackling pain in her chest. It helped, but not enough to prevent her from calling Ayano’s cell every hour or so. She knew she was being a hysterical mess, but she couldn’t stop herself. To the rest of the people in the gallery, she seemed calm, cool, and professional. No one had any idea what was going on inside of her. 

Around 6:00, Jada treated her staff to a catered dinner at the gallery before their last night of schmoozing the rich and elite out-of-towners. It had taken her all day to get rid of her hangover, drinking water and gatorade and taking Aleve until she finally felt recovered. The bartenders arrived afterwards, deliberately only a half hour before the final party officially began at 8:00. 

Jada’s friend from art school, Grace, showed up to shamelessly advertise her own clothing designs. She was wearing one of them herself and had a few friends and staff members wearing some pieces as well. Grace was usually only 5’4” but today she had on platform combat boots. Her dress had leather cords and strips as the skirt, intricate lace sleeves, a high collar, and she had used body paint for the bodice. It was hard to tell that there was no fabric from far away but hard to miss up close. Grace’s Korean hair never gave her a lot of variation, so she wore it in her usual asymmetrical bob. Jada was going over the guest list when Grace stood next to her, peering over her shoulder.

“Estefania just asked me if I was wearing McQueen. This doesn’t really look that much like McQueen, does it?!?” she asked indignantly. Jada looked at her outfit critically. 

“Maybe the collar does, a little bit,” she answered. Grace went on about how she could make last minute changes when she noticed Jada wasn’t listening. “What are you doing? You have checked your phone three times since I got here.”

“You are going to give me so much shit for it if I tell you,” Jada groaned. 

“Jada, you are the worst answer-shopper with your friends. You only go to Natalie with Ayano stuff because she thinks he’s gorgeous, just like you only go Sam when you think you’ve been partying too much because he’s a freakin’ lush,” Grace nudged her. “Tell me. Take the heat.”

“You just made a pretty convincing argument to call Sam and Nat over here,” Jada smiled.

“Is it partying and Ayano? Dish!” Grace nudged her again.

“Okay, let’s go have a cigarette out back,” Jada sighed, grabbing their coats. They went outside to a small semi-private courtyard.

“It’s fucking freezing,” Grace complained, lighting a clove cigarette.

“You’re not wearing a shirt under there. You always suffer for your art,” Jada said, lighting a Camel Light.

“So, what happened?”

“Last night was too crazy.” Jada said, exhaling some smoke. “I told him I didn’t want to go back to that sleazy Bulgarian bar but we went anyway. I was trying to keep up with him with the drinks and this Venus stuff…”

“Well that was---”

“Stupid, I know. If you’re gonna start now…”

“Okay, sorry. Continue.”

“I just didn’t want to back down last night. I wish I did and I tried to talk to him about it this morning and he just lost it, like, thinking I didn’t love him or something. I don’t know,” she said, her lower lip trembling very slightly.

“Was he hurt? Embarrassed?” Grace asked, looking away. If Jada was going to start crying, she didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. They were really good friends but they did not cry together.

“Maybe. He told me he loved me last week,” Jada said, peering over at her.

“Did you say it back?” Grace looked back curiously.

“Of course. It’s really scary. I can’t stop calling him today and he won’t pick up.” Her expression flashed briefly to reveal how miserable she was.

“Ohhh. I see. You’ve got it bad for him,” Grace sighed sympathetically. “He is probably just as upset as you are right now. He’ll talk when he’s ready. Stop calling and have fun with everybody here. It’s the last night of Fashion Week! You have to come out with us afterwards. If you ditch everyone for him tonight, you’ll be such an asshole.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said, stuffing her lighter into the cellophane wrapper of her Camel Lights pack so she wouldn't lose it.

“I’m just as bad, I disappear too sometimes. I’m not shitting on you,” Grace said, trying to cheer her up. “Just turn off your phone. Go plug it in in your office.”

“Okay,” she said, quiet for a moment as they finished their cigarettes. “No one had ever said it to me before. I mean, like a boyfriend.”

“Oh. No wonder you’re such a hot mess... Jade, it’ll all work out. Leave it alone for tonight. ‘It’ll never heal if you pick at it!’” Grace joked. Jada gave her a half-hearted smile before shifting gears and heading back inside in work mode. 


Submitted: November 13, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Valucia. All rights reserved.


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