Vibration on your leg. It’s a text from a number you don’t recognize. It reads: Are you here yet? It must be a wrong number, you say to yourself. After thumbing in your passcode, you open the messenger app to reply, “Wrong number,” but before you even start to write, a greyed out speech bubble with an animated ellipsis pops up on your screen. Vibration in your hand. It’s a picture of a blonde girl smiling, in her early 20s, maybe late teens, you hope. You erase the message you began and as you do so, she writes in all caps: ARE YOU HERE YET?!!.
You fumble your phone and drop it face down on the gritty asphalt. Damn it. As you reach down to pick it up you notice a red Ferrari parked across the street. A young, blonde woman steps out of the driver’s side. That’s her. It’s the girl from the text. She removes her dark sunglasses, bites the earpiece, and hangs it gently on her bottom lip, clad in a red-rose lipstick. She waves you over and you point to yourself, surprised, and mouth: Who? Me? “Yeah, you,” she says. “Get in,” and she opens the passenger side door. Before you cross the street, you look both ways and make your way across. As you step into the car, the blonde, wearing a red trench coat and black Louie Vuitton stilettos with the red sole, gets in on the other side, slams the door shut, starts the ignition and steps on the gas.
“No, wait,” Ray said. “You’re getting it all wrong. I told you, I don’t like the color red. It makes me gassy.”
“Oh, I see that now, Mr. Dodds,” Olivier said, scrolling down Ray Dodds’s online profile. “I’m sorry about that.” Under the category “Things I dislike,” it read: “The color red reminds me of spicy food.”
“Listen, I gotta go,” Ray said. “Fix it and get this done by tomorrow.”
“Okay, will do, Mr. Dodds,” Olivier replied to a dial tone.
Olivier worked at a Los Angeles-based Augmented Reality company called LifeVision, which created immersive adventures featuring real human actors fulfilling the fantasies of their customers. Olivier and his coworkers were tasked with gathering information from customers looking for “Extraordinary experiences for people of all ages”— LifeVision’s official motto. First, the customer needed to fill out a 34-question online survey inquiring about the customer’s likes, dislikes, fears, turn-ons and turn-offs, age, medical conditions, and other vital information.
Second, the customer partook in a video conference call with a VisionCoach, in this case Olivier, who took notes on the type of adventure the customer wanted to place themselves in— the “You Choose Your Illusion” plan— as well as any patterns in the customer’s mannerisms, way of speaking and any bit of information that the webcam captured. A survey conducted by LifeVision demonstrated that 89% of its customers preferred stories that incorporated an element of their subconscious behavior. At this point, Olivier also suggested possible scenarios or outcomes to the stories, most of which were rejected.
Many of the other AR companies created stories by having their customers fill out a form, similar to the ones you’d fill out to get a free coffee gift card. Just a name, last name and email. That’s it. That’s all they needed to generate a rudimentary and often pleasant experience.
“It’ll get your rocks off, but it won’t take you out to dinner and cook you breakfast in the morning,” Olivier’s boss, Roger, would say.
Once the script was completed by Olivier, and revised and approved by Roger, it was then delivered to the production team who would shoot the scenes with the actors and then send the product to the IT department who would convert the footage into an “Augmented” experience, viewable anywhere the customer wanted. If you were in your bedroom, CIA agents would break into it or board a public transit bus if you were on your way to work.
Olivier created stories mostly for people who were too lazy or too rich to raise their kids and relied heavily on the use of smart devices. iParents, as Olivier referred to them. What he hated more than working in the only department that made use of prescribed templates and writer-castrating censors was writing stories for people too lazy to interact with the living, breathing humans around them or, at least, ones with fake online profiles. People like Ray Dodds. Those were his best types of customers: parents and perverts.
Olivier’s typical day at work began with clocking into a computer on the ground floor that kept track of every minute he was at work. As he rode the elevator up to the 21st floor, his stomach turned due to the unnatural vertical displacement of his body and the grumbling from a hungry stomach, craving the caffeine fix that came from his morning coffee— a blonde roast, blonde with too much milk— blonde on blonde. Olivier could taste its sweet, beige maltiness lightly scalding the nooks and crannies of his mouth.
“Oh, hey Olivier,” Autumn said.
“Hey, Autumn,” Olivier said, burning his esophagus. Autumn was one of his coworkers. She actually worked in the cubicle right across from his, visible to him by a thin sheet of glass above the low gray partition. She technically worked for the Production department, the people in charge of filming and producing scripts like the one Olivier’s department created. Their cubicles were about 13 steps from each other. Whenever Olivier wanted to look at her, which he did at least 55 times every hour, all he needed to do was look up and turn 8 degrees to the left. He liked the gut-churning instability that he contracted every time his eyes met hers. There was a dangerous glint in her eyes. Olivier was never quite sure about what she was thinking.
“I see you’ve got your morning coffee,” Autumn said, staring straight ahead at the elevator’s stainless steel double doors.
“You know I need my cup of Joe,” Olivier said, turning his neck slightly to look at Autumn’s curly brown hair. “If you ever want to get out of the office for a second, I’d love to get some coffee with you.” Olivier turned his head slyly to see that Autumn was already looking at him. She pushed the retina-burning red “Emergency Stop” button on the elevator’s control panel. Although no alarms went off because of it, as Olivier feared, the tumbling of the shaft and in his chest produced a small ringing in his ear.
“Yeah, I’d love to,” she said with a soft giggle. “Only under one condition.” Olivier’s coffee hand seemed to be on fire, not from the scalding liquid, but rather, from his heart trying to escape his body through his fingertips. He switched the coffee cup over to his other hand and took a small sip, an excuse to gulp down his nerves.
“Sure. What is it?” Olivier found the exuberant energy emitting from Autumn both seductive and menacing, wanting to evacuate the metallic enclosure through the emergency hatch above them and at the same time, stay trapped in there forever with her.
“Surprise me,” Autumn said, laughing at the confused look on Olivier’s face. “In other words, don’t just ask me awkwardly when we bump into each other in the elevator.” She released the button, the door dinged open and Autumn rushed out before Olivier could even finish processing the volatile sincerity of her request. “I’ll see you around,” her voice echoed in the hallway.
When Olivier arrived at his desk he had a missed call. It was from Ray. Before calling him back, Olivier played back the message. It was loud and panicked, most likely due to him speaking into a hands-free device, hands busy doing something else. Although Ray liked the direction in which the story was headed, he felt that there was something missing.
“I think it needs something with a punch,” Ray said. “I’ve got two letters for you: S&M.”
Olivier plucked a pen from his steel mesh pencil holder and penned Ray’s requests, which included the use of patent leather, whips and for the blonde in the blue Ferrari to beat the “living fuck out of me,” as he so poignantly described it.
“I want this thing to have some real conviction to it,” Ray said, laughing under the weight of his own ingenuity. His breathing became heavy, the type that comes as a result of an accelerating heart rate. “You know what I mean, right? I mean, I want to wake up in a fucking dumpster somewhere after this bitch is done. Oops, pardon my French. After this lady–” he smirked, “is done with me. I don’t know, that’s just my opinion. You guys are the experts.”
Olivier returned Ray’s call, but the secretary at the law firm where he worked told him that Mr. Dodds was currently out of the office. Just as he finished recording his message, Olivier saw that Autumn had returned to her desk. Although he had just seen her a few minutes ago in the elevator, Olivier thought, what better time than now to ask her out to coffee? It would be a real surprise as she probably wouldn’t expect his request so soon.
Olivier walked over to Autumn’s section of the office and stood flush with the cubicle’s partition. She didn’t look up.
“Uh, hey Autumn,” Olivier said, clearing his throat. The gesture wasn’t necessarily to dislodge something stuck in his throat as it was to unstuck himself from having to walk back to his desk pathetically, unseen in plain sight. “I wanted to see if you wanted to go get some coffee.” She looked at him flustered, with the look of a high school girl caught smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. Before Olivier could get another word out, two women came out of the office next to Autumn’s cubicle and began pillaging through her papers, like secret service agents trying to find out information on Nixon and what happened at Watergate in the early 1970s. Autumn looked at Olivier with tears in her eyes, communicating that she couldn’t go.
“Let’s go get a cup of warm coffee, yeah?” Olivier said, raising his voice hoping to lighten the mood. “There’s nothing like a warm cup of coffee to lift your spirits.” Olivier thought he was being adventurous, charming and a little bit of a jerk. Just the right amount to make him seem like a bad boy, but not too much that it would make him seem like an asshole.
“I lost the credit card,” Autumn said, dropping her head on her forearms.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Olivier said. “I’ve got you covered.” Autumn’s boss, one of the women in the room rummaging through her papers told him, “What she means to say, Olivier, is that she can’t go with you.” She walked past him, nudging him slightly. The other woman, Irina, laughed forcefully and added, “What she’s trying to say is that Autumn is not allowed to go. She lost the department’s credit card.”
“Hm, thank you ladies,” Olivier said adding a nervous chuckle. He walked back to his desk, afraid of even taking a glance to check up on Autumn. Olivier was so disturbed by the exchange that he didn’t even look up and to the left to look at his dream girl, for the remainder of the day.
Olivier heard footsteps amidst the flood of sound gushing out of his headphones, encasing his outer ears and bashing the eardrums. He felt the warmth of someone’s presence staring down at him, but he was too timid to even glance.
“Hey,” Autumn said. The placement of her delicate hand falling onto his shoulder startled him for a second. He removed his headphones and gave her a sleepy smile. “I just wanted to apologize for my boss’s behavior earlier today.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” he said looking up at her. “I know that she can be a real ornery person sometimes.” Olivier wanted to say the words “bitch” and “all the time,” but refrained because aside from being a bitch, Autumn’s boss was also an eavesdropper.
“God, I want to get the fuck out of here. Want to get a drink after work?”
“Yeah, sure. I’d love that.” Olivier was raring to spend time with Autumn outside of the confides of the office. He felt that their flirtation needed to reach the next stage in the timeless art of seduction: Drunken flirtation.
Autumn removed her hand from Olivier’s shoulder, which was now warm and balmy, perfumed by her scent, one that was chiseled into his nasal passages.
“Okay, great,” she said. “Let me just finish some stuff over here and then I’ll wave you down so we can go.”
He felt comfortable with the ocular exchange they shared, but the fact that she was aware of how easy it was for him to spy on her made him feel like a pervert. His whole body went cold, including the sultry hand print left behind by Autumn.
The phone rang. It was Ray Dodds.
“Hey, Olivier,” Ray said. Ray used to enjoy the fact that the words “hey” and “Olivier’ rhymed. He was so proud of himself for having come to that realization all on his own. “What do you have for me? Hopefully something that’ll make me come.” Ray broke into a cackle. “I’m just kidding. Only, I’m not.” The cackle returned, more devastating than the first.
“Hi Ray,” Olivier said, trying his hardest not to give Ray anything to riff off of. “I liked your suggestions and I think we can definitely use them to create a great experience for you.”
“Can we have that ready by the end of the week? I need this bad.” Ray’s breathing became haggard and drawn out.
“Yes, I believe that’s feasi—”
“Feces,” Ray yelled and broke into a fit of laughter. “God, I love that word.” Olivier heard gentle sniffles and pictured Ray wiping tears from his eyes. “Alright sir, I’ll let you finish working on my stuff. I almost said shit,” he said, not withholding any laughter. “Okay, okay. Bye.”
“Bye,” Olivier replied under his breath.
The bar that Olivier and Autumn decided to go to was a block away from work. It was posh and inhabited mainly by men in business suits and women in tight skirts and too much makeup on their faces. The place was packed. Olivier motioned Autumn towards a spot on the bar that had just been uninhabited, the vinyl upholstery of the stools still warm with ass sweat. He waited until she sat comfortably on the high bar stool, a manifestation of his gentlemanliness. When he finally hopped up onto the stool, he added a couple of humorous bounces. Autumn smiled.
“Sorry for taking so long to leave the office,” Olivier said. “I just needed to finish a call with this guy named Ray Dodds.”
“Oh, is that the guy who always requests those weird fetish experiences?” Autumn said, resting her right cheek on her right fist, elbow resting on the glossy mahogany bar. Olivier noticed how easily distracted Autumn was. Something needed to happen in order for her to be interested.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Olivier laughed, hoping that his boisterousness infected an ailing Autumn. He immediately stopped as he finally was able to make eye contact with the manic bartender. Knowing that he probably wouldn’t be able to get the bartender’s attention for another hour or so, Olivier asked Autumn to name two drinks that she would like. She ordered a Cosmopolitan and a vodka martini. Olivier also ordered a vodka martini and an Old Fashioned. He hated the taste of the latter, but wanted to seem like he knew his liquor in front of Autumn.
“I hate this fucking job,” she said. “I feel like a glorified and dignified phone sex operator.” Autumn took a long swig of the sweaty, ice-cold water. “I have a fucking Master of Fine Arts, for Christ’s sake.” Upon hearing this, Olivier took a drink of water, not really swallowing, but merely buying himself some time, thinking of something witty while at the same time encouraging to say.
“Well, at least you get to write for a living,” Olivier said. “It could be worse. You could be an actual phone sex operator.”
“This shit isn’t writing,” Autumn said, pecking down on the mahogany with her index finger, so harshly that it started to bend backwards. “It’s like skipping the joys of cooking and eating a meal, and simply shitting it out. This is shit.”
The bartender jack-and-the-boxed between them breaking up the tension, beginning to sediment on the date Olivier wanted to believe that he was on. The tight-shirted man placed the four drinks in front of them and vanished, appearing again at the other end of the bar like a ninja.
“You want to try some of my Old Fashioned?” Olivier said, expecting Autumn to be as intimidated by its foreignness as he was.
“Nah, I hate the way those taste,” Autumn said. “It reminds me of nail polish remover.”
Olivier needed to change the subject quick, at least if he wanted the kiss he yearned for at the end of the night.
“So, what are some of the things you truly like to write about?” Olivier asked. “What really gets your heart pumping?” He noticed a glimmer of interest amidst the gloom in her eyes.
“Well, I mostly write literary nonfiction,” Autumn said, twirling the thin, yellow lemon twist, agitating the red sea of Cosmopolitan. “But it’s based on my life experiences.” She took a sip. “Nobody’s going to want to read about how my mom was a cold and conniving witch.” She chugged the rest of the deep pink libation. The grimace on her face made Olivier uncomfortable.
“I think that as long as you’re writing from a place that’s real, then people will find a way to relate to your writing and even grow to love it.”
“Ugh.” Olivier didn’t know if that reaction was to the bitterness of the cocktail or to the mushiness of his saccharine comment. The ambiguity was killing him.
“It’s because everything is driven by people voting thumbs up or down,” Olivier said, trying to sound self-righteous, and not like one sitting around with his thumb up his ass. “It’s all about likes.” He leaned forward. “It doesn’t matter if nobody actually reads your work or even gets your message because as long as you get that vibration in your pocket, that sensation of acknowledgement, you could care less.”
Olivier’s motivational speech seemed to have an adverse effect on Autumn, who was looking down, her merlot tresses curling over her face. The doubt in her eyes crept down to her hand, pivoting at the wrist, off the bar’s edge. Olivier gently slid her soft hand into his. She looked up, half surprised, half pleased.
“See? I knew you liked me,” Autumn said, buzzed from her one and a half drunk cocktails. “I like you too. You’re easy—” She lifted her glass to her lips and finished the remainder of her vodka martini. “I can tell exactly what you’re thinking about just by looking at your face.”
Her response to his advances took Olivier aback. He didn’t know what to say.
“You’ve got the softest hands,” he finally said as he rubbed her porcelain-soft hands in the soothing manner of a manicurist.
“Well, you’ve got the sweetest eyes,” she said with a crooked smile. “I like the way you look at me from your desk.” Autumn leaned forward and whispered to him that sometimes she looks at Olivier’s glass partition just to see if he looks up to meet her eyes. Upon hearing this, Olivier extended his hand towards her face, placed her pointy chin in his palm and lifted gently. She smiled at him with her big, tipsy blue eyes. Olivier peered forward and closed his eyes, a second after she closed hers. The tips of their noses caressed past one another and the warm embrace of their four individual lips created the hot-blooded contraction of a fist ready to punch with an intent to kill. Autumn’s lips tasted of tart lemon and piercing vodka. Olivier’s acetone breath didn’t seem to bother Autumn, I guess she doesn’t mind my old fashioned approach, after all, thought Olivier.
Their lips were inseparable. The bartender kept coming up to them to ask about another round, but after the second time of being ignored, he disappeared completely leaving behind the bill, his calling card.
“Let’s go to my place,” Autumn suggested, the inebriating ambrosia coursing freely in her bloodstream. Olivier agreed. He fantasized constantly about this very moment, when he was introduced to Autumn, three months ago, during his onboarding at LifeVision. Besides, it was late and he had to take the bus home, which became weirder and more violent as the night grew older.
As soon as they arrived at Autumn’s apartment, there was an air that they were going to have sex. It was a product of the unspoken passion they had danced around for the past few months, and the way she was rubbing his thigh on the way over, creeping a few inches short of his crotch. It was only a matter of when and how. Her apartment was organized in a disorganized sort of way. Autumn was under the spell of her own clutter, the way that people who don’t wear deodorant think that they don’t smell.
“I like your place,” Olivier said. “It’s so you.”
“Really? You think?” Autumn laughed nervously.
“Yeah, it totally channels an eclectic vibe. It’s homey. I feel like I could live here.”
As the last words were coming out of his mouth, Olivier began to look around the apartment associating certain places, pieces of furniture and appliances with different events that would happen before and after the sex. A playbook, one might say. That’s the bathroom where I’ll go psyche myself up before I go into her bedroom, and pee after I’m done making love to her, Olivier thought. That’s the refrigerator where I’ll pull out a cold water bottle to drink and hold up against my forehead— wondering whether she drank Pellegrino at home as she did at work— and that’s the couch where I’ll sit completely naked, thinking about what had just taken place in the bedroom and reflecting on what the conversation should be in the morning. Maybe he would have to come back to the couch in the early hours of the morning to polish off his post-coital speech while she still slept.
Autumn’s kiss on the cheek woke Olivier from his reverie.
“Would you like some water?” Autumn asked, opening the refrigerator and looking back at Olivier. “I’ve got sparkling and still.” Olivier took a second to admire Autumn’s curvaceous, yet delicate silhouette, created by the artificial sunlight beaming out of the refrigerator.
“I’ll take some still water, please” Olivier said, his hands clasped politely behind his back.
They took a seat on her frazzled, yellow couch and placed their cold glasses on her coffee table, chipped from moving from apartment to apartment. As soon as they placed them down, Autumn placed her cold palms on Olivier’s fevered face. She leaned in for a kiss and he placed his hands on her thighs. Every time he opened his eyes in between kisses, he was greeted by a wall of smile. It was the first time he had seen her this happy and this interested in him.
“You’re probably going to think I’m weird,” Autumn said, combing her lower lip with her upper teeth, and scratching the skin under her nose with the tip of her index finger. “But do you want to hang out in my room? My roommate is probably going to be out for the night, so you can sleep over if you like.”
“Yeah, sure,” Olivier said, excited, then immediately regretting how excitedly he had reacted to the proposition.
They picked up their glasses and made their way to Autumn’s bedroom. Before they got to the room’s doorway, Olivier asked Autumn to carry his drink into the room for him.
“I’ll catch up with you,” Olivier said. “Let me just use the restroom.”
“Oh, sure,” Autumn said. “It’s right over there.” She kissed his lips— drawing it out with a tremulous hum— turned around with a glass of water in each hand and walked into the room.
Olivier took his time in the bathroom, peeing for a few seconds, shaking his penis to get out every last drop, and looking down reassuring himself that the thing that was dangling in his grip was going to be big enough for the task at hand. He washed his hands and splashed water a few times on his face. The purple towel hanging on the loose rack next to the sink was frayed, like everything else in the apartment, so he slowly lifted it and dried his face. It smelled of Autumn. Olivier gave himself a final look, raking his fingers laxly through his hair, from one side of his head to the other. He smiled.
When Olivier entered the room he took a panoramic look at the place. He then started to focus on individual items, such as the window, wedged open from too many thick layers of paint. The room was surrounded by color-coded piles of clothing, heaps of worn out books, and rows of shoes for every occasion, from brown suede hiking boots to silky black stilettos. Every piece of furniture looked like it had been inherited at least twice, from family or a thrift store. All were decorated by at least one or two withered candles. When Olivier turned to look at the moon-lit bed, he noticed Autumn lying on her back, fully nude, her arms and legs slightly splayed as if she were a knife thrower’s assistant latched onto a wheel of death.
“Oh, I didn’t know you’d be— “ Olivier said. Autumn immediately lay on her side, reacting to Olivier’s surprised look.
“I told you I’m weird,” Autumn laughed, lying completely on her stomach, placing her chin down on her joined hands, windshield-wiping her lower legs side to side, causing the fleshy mounds of her buttocks to tremble like ripples in a still pool of water.
“No. You’re not,” Olivier said. He walked towards the bed, hemorrhaging clothing as he approached it, struggling to kick off his shoes and unbutton his shirt simultaneously. “I’ve thought about this moment for a long time.” By the time Olivier arrived at the foot of the bed, he had stripped down to his striped boxer briefs. He crawled onto the bed and towards Autumn’s pale body. He kissed her and lay on his back and flung off his boxers. She straddled him.
“There’s something else,” Autumn said, looking down, not making eye contact. “Guys, don’t last very long inside of me.” Olivier took this as a challenge and thrusted up with a passion. The bedsprings sprung as Autumn fell on his chest. She was making love as if she was trying to make a point. A statement. Olivier was trying to contribute to the cause, but was mainly trying to keep up with her demonic heaving and arrhythmic limb jerks. After a while, he simply hung on to her spastic hips and lay back for the tumultuous ride. All the way until she came down her peak.
Olivier held Autumn in his arms, her leg draped over both of his. The cold night air felt nice on their sweaty, sultry bodies. Their exhalations formed clouds of steam, similar to those that follow a long cigarette drag.
“Oh shit,” Autumn yelled, as the sound of a key lodging inside a lock, a deadbolt retracting and a door knob twisting the creaky door open filled the frumpy apartment. “You need to hide.”
“Wait, it’s just your roommate,” Olivier said, continuing to take his time inhaling and exhaling.
“My boyfriend is my roommate,” Autumn yelled in hush tones. She pushed Olivier off the bed, grabbed him by the hand and looked frantically for an Olivier-sized hole she could stick him in. He went from feeling like a French lover to an extra can of French onion soup that didn’t fit in the cupboard. “Here,” Autumn said, pushing Olivier down, “hide under the bed.”
Olivier didn’t even know that Autumn had a boyfriend. She’d never mention him during their flirtations. Not even by accident-not-by-accident, such as when girls want to let an interested gentleman that they are taken: “What did you do this weekend?” the guy asks, “My boyfriend and I went to a movie,” the girl replies. Man down. Erection averted. Move on to the next girl. Autumn broke the rules.
Under the bed, Olivier soon realized that the reason why Autumn’s room was marginally in order was because she swept much of her clutter under the bed, himself included. Suddenly, his clothes and shoes smacked the side of his face, tossed haphazardly under the bed by Autumn. A Judas kiss. Olivier, constricted by the limited amount of space under Autumn’s bed, morphed his body into a human jigsaw puzzle piece. He heard a man’s voice— flinty, almost childish in manner— and four footsteps getting louder and louder as they approached the bedroom. Olivier saw Autumn’s bare feet walk by, the same ones he had in his mouth, wearing the toe ring that she used to tickle his testicles earlier that night, and her boyfriend’s, who were dressed in jeans and retro Adidas shoes. He seems like a nice guy, Olivier thought. If anybody can turn a nice guy like this into a fool, it’s definitely her.
After Autumn and her boyfriend turned off the lights and got through the small talk of how their day went, Olivier began to plot ways of escaping. After a long period of silence, he dozed off losing track of time. Five hours could’ve flown by, for all he knew.
“Hey,” Autumn whispered. “Come out, slowly.”
Olivier palmed his way out of the sliver he was in and tiptoed his way out of the bedroom door, not looking back to see the cuckold’s face. He wanted to continue to think of him as a good guy. Autumn led him to the door, placing her bangs behind her ear, avoiding eye contact.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Olivier whispered, the hiss in his voice sounded like yelling in the flat silence of the empty hallway. She nodded in the affirmative.
“Now get the fuck out,” she whispered as she pushed him out and closed the door silently.
Olivier walked out in his boxers, his clothes bunched up in one hand and his shoes in the other. Riding the 2:34 a.m. bus home, he fit right in.
When Olivier woke up the next morning, he was surprised to find that nobody was on the other side of his bed, as he swung his arm over, not even the heat of the sun. He was expecting it to land on the soft nook between a woman’s rib cage and her hips. It read 8:55 a.m. on his clock, he started work at 9:00 a.m. Fuck. He sprung out of bed and mad dashed to the bathroom. He cleansed his body in the manner by which he’d heard courtesans of old did after an unscrupulous night of gallivanting. It matched his current emotional state, that of being a total slut. A homewrecker.
As he clocked in, he remembered that he had yet to complete Ray’s story. He had taken it home to work on after the thing he had planned with Autumn. Olivier knew that he only had two hours to complete the script and submit it to his boss for approval. Leaving Autumn’s apartment was the only thing he could think of, so he used the script format to journal and digest the emotions that were eating at him the same way Autumn had eaten his penis the night before. He was breaking the first rule of Write Club, his boss Roger’s spoof on “Fight Club”— the movie, not the book— one of his many failed attempts to be an asshole who could also be your friend. The first rule about Write Club was that you don’t write about yourself. The second rule of Write Club was that you don’t right about yourself because this isn’t your goddamned diary or memoir.
“Stick to the data, people,” Roger would say. “We don’t want a lawsuit in our hands.”
When he finished, Olivier looked up and Autumn shot him a smile. He smiled back. She mouthed to him: “I’m sorry” and protruded her lower lip in a frown. They both laughed. Having tested the waters, Autumn walked over to Olivier’s desk and leaned on his cubicle wall.
“Hey,” she said in a low voice. “Are we okay?” Olivier pretended to type something on his keyboard, partly to fight his fidgetiness.
“Yeah, we’re good,” he said.
“I’ve decided to submit some stories to a couple of literary journals,” Autumn said. This brought a smile to Olivier’s face. Maybe last night did mean something more than sex, he thought. “If I get published, I won’t have to worry about somebody masturbating to my work anymore.”
“Well, I’ve heard that there are a number of perverts in the literary journal reading community,” Olivier rebutted. They broke into laughter. Autumn’s boss popped her head out of her office and shushed them.
“Okay, I should probably go back,” Autumn said. She turned around midway to her desk. “We should get coffee sometime.”
“Sure,” he said. “But you’ve got to ask me by surprise, not awkwardly.”
“Okay,” she said and laughed. When she got back to her seat, Autumn looked over at Olivier and winked at him. Just as he was about to return the gesture, the phone rang. Incoming call from Ray Dodds.
“Oh my fucking God, Olivier,” Ray yelled, his voice crackling in the receiver. “This thing you wrote right here is real good. It’s better than the low-budget porno I pitched to you yesterday. Speaking of pitching, I’m pitching quite the fort—”
“Ray—” Olivier interrupted. “Ray, I’m so glad you liked it.”
“Yeah, it just feels so real and fresh. Like something that could’ve happened to you. It’s very personal. Good job, kid. Hey listen, I’ll talk to you later. Bye.” Olivier hung up the phone. He was relieved that the story worked out, but was nervous that Autumn would eventually find out about it. He opened up an email window and began to type in Autumn’s address, when Irina, Autumn’s office friend approached Olivier from behind.
“Hi Olivier,” Irina said softly. Olivier stood up to see if Autumn was at her seat, but she was gone. “She’s in a meeting,” she added. Olivier, as well as the whole of LifeVision, knew that Irina was engaged. What would she want with me? Olivier thought. Engaged women are the lepers of the dating world, more so than married women. They still hold true to the illusion of a happily-ever-after life. Irina kept mentioning to Olivier about how her boyfriend stood her up to go to a stupid baseball game in San Francisco.
“I’m going to be all alone this weekend,” Irina said, twisting her finger on a lock of hair.
Olivier sympathized with her, having just gone through an emotional tempest himself, but continued wondering why she was telling him this. He wanted to swat her away, because aside from having the reputation of an engaged woman, she was also known for being a snoozer and a bit of a snitch. Irina deflated her puffed cheeks, letting out a long, resonant sigh.
“Yep. I’ll probably just get into my lace night gown and drink a ton of wine,” Irina said, eyeing Olivier. Her breasts were bouncing as she rocked back and forth, heel and toe, on her kitten heels, felinely teasing him, the words meowing out of her Cheshire smile.
“Well, that’ll be nice,” Olivier said, worrying that Autumn had told Irina about the night before.
“I wish my fiancé was like Autumn’s.” This sent a lightning bolt down Olivier’s back, similar to those that prelude the first rains of fall. “She told me that he came back early from his business trip last night and proposed to her over breakfast. That’s so romantic.” Fuck, Olivier thought. Here he thought that maybe he could take Autumn away from her boyfriend, every single man’s delusion when they fall for a taken woman.
“She’s engaged?” Olivier asked himself out loud.
“Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are,” Irina answered. “They weren’t even having sex anymore. I seriously thought she was going to dump him.” Olivier began to realize that Autumn just needed to blow off some steam, and that he was the release valve. “She told me that last night was the first time she had sex in a while,” Irina added.
“With you.” Olivier reached over to his office chair, which swiveled out of control, trying to prevent himself from collapsing. “With her boyfriend, silly,” Irina said, slapping his forearm.
Olivier realized that he loved Autumn and that his heart would continue to shatter, shard by shard. He gave himself into Autumn as gradually as autumn gives itself into winter. He hated Autumn only because she would never love him. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she was incapable of doing so. The only consolation he had was that he wasn’t going to sleep alone on that cold autumn night.
“Hey, Irina,” Olivier said. “You want to go out for a drink after work?” He knew that he wouldn’t be able to get over Autumn on alcohol alone, that he would need the warmth of a woman’s body, even one he would regret avenging his honor with at a later time. Irina agreed. Her acceptance comforted him.
That and the fact that it was going to be another good story to sell to Ray someday.
Rubbing elbows with phones leads to job [Photograph found in Valley Times Collection , U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, Los Angeles]. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2017, from http://jpg1.lapl.org/00133/00133556.jpg (Originally photographed 1949)