“You’ll do fine, Alysa.”
“I don’t know,” she says, her blue eyes showing her lack of confidence.
“You know this!” I laugh at her insecurity. We’d been studying all afternoon, and I’m certain she’ll be the most prepared freshman in her world science class. I remember Mr. Leon’s final exam from a few years ago. He was tough, but the curriculum was relevant. He didn’t test over things you’d never use in every day life. He was one of my favorite teachers. “You aced both practice quizzes.”
Alysa bats her eyelashes quickly as she stands up. “Thank you, Jon.” She pushes her long blonde hair behind her shoulders and extends her arms to me. I hug her briefly, loosely.
“You’re welcome.” When I pull away, she awkwardly pats my arm. I smile at her as I begin to stack up our books and note cards. “So, it’s our last session…”
“I know. I mean, maybe I should keep up the tutoring over the summer. You could help me prepare for biology. We could go back to Sunday afternoons, if that’s better for you.” She raises her eyebrows in anticipation. I’d always suspected she had a crush on me, but she was a shy girl, and I never expected her to act on it. Her invitation feels forced. She seems nervous.
I check my watch. Five o’clock? I shove my books into my backpack and carefully slide my computer into the bag Livvy gave me for Christmas. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to get back to you.”
“You can let me know at school on Monday.”
“Listen, I have to go,” I tell her impatiently. “Did you happen to bring the check?” Asking for money was something I hated doing, but with half of these students, I know I’d never get paid if I didn’t bring it up. Even when I did, parents often found ways to delay for weeks. The check’s in the mail. Hopefully, Alysa has the money with her.
“I have half of it. Fifty dollars, but it’s cash. Is that okay? I think I’ll have the rest by Friday.” She holds out a stack of bills, all fives and ones. “I have babysitting jobs every night this week.”
“Yeah,” I tell her, masking my disappointment. I really want the other fifty dollars, but if she doesn’t have it, there’s nothing either of us can do about it. The money was supposed to go toward dinner tonight. I’ll have to think of another plan. “Thanks.”
She hands me the money, and I shove it into my front pocket without counting it. I start toward the entry of the library, stopping when I notice she’s not following me.
“Everything okay?” I ask her.
“I just… I was wondering… if you can’t tutor me, would you like to hang out sometime this summer? Maybe we could see a movie?” She looks so hopeful, and anxious. I can’t help but notice how she’s stretching out the sleeve of her sweater as she tugs on the knitted fabric.
“Alysa, I’m sorry,” I start, knowing that I needed to leave about a half hour ago but trying not to rush this conversation. “I have a girlfriend. In fact, I’m taking her to prom tonight, and I have to make some stops before I go home this evening. That’s why I’m kind of in a hurry.”
“You have a girlfriend? I’ve never seen you with anyone all year.”
“She goes to another school.”
“Oh.” She nods her head. “I see. Okay.” Her cheeks are pink as she swiftly lifts the strap of her purse over her head. She scoots in front of me, no longer looking me in the eye. I rush past her to beat her to the door.
“I’m flattered, Alysa. You’re a very smart and pretty girl,” I tell her as I hold the door open.
“Thank you,” she says softly with a smile.
“Be careful walking home.”
I watch her for a few seconds as she takes off toward her apartment before I cross the street to the drug store. I take a deep breath before going inside.
Tonight is the night. I confirmed the hotel reservations the moment I got up this morning, and as my brothers fought over toys in our bedroom, I scoured through some CDs I’d borrowed from a few friends for romantic songs. As it turns out, my friends don’t have the best taste in music, so I was only able to find about seven songs that wouldn’t instigate bouts of severe melancholy or fits of rage. Livvy always brings her iPod – everywhere she goes – so I may have to rely on her to set the mood. I really didn’t want her to have to be responsible for anything tonight.
After picking up a pack of razors, I make my way toward the pharmacy section. I still have condoms at home that I’d purchased earlier in the year, but when I bought those, it was an after-thought, and I’d just grabbed the first box I saw on the shelf. I want to do whatever I can to make this experience at least comfortable – and possibly somewhat enjoyable – for Olivia. Even though I’m in a hurry, I spend about ten minutes making a decision, and end up picking up three different types, just in case.
The female cashier gives me a look of disapproval when I put the condoms on the counter. Ignoring her, I find my wallet in my backpack and pull out the wad of cash from my pocket. She stares at me after ringing up my four items, without even saying the total amount I owe her. I squint at the faded display and swipe my debit card.
“Listen, would it be possible to exchange these small bills for something larger?”
“I don’t want your stripper cash,” she says as she nudges the money away with her long fingernails.
“I’m sorry?” I question her. “If I asked you for ones, I can see how you might think that I’m headed to a gentleman’s club this evening, what with the prophylactics and all, but – oh, did you think I earned this stripping? Really?” I glance down at my body and laugh at the thought. I’m fit, but I’m not stripper-worthy.
“They are small bills,” she says sarcastically.
“Fair enough,” I concede with a chuckle, pushing the money back toward her. “I tutor kids in school, and this is how I was compensated today. It’s babysitting money, if you must know. I have an important engagement tonight, and I would just like some twenties, if that’s possible.”
“You gotta buy something.”
“I just did.”
“You gotta buy something and pay with cash.”
I glance around the register and pick up a small bottle of antibacterial hand gel. She rings it up, this time giving me the total.
I point discreetly to the pile of money after adding a few more small bills from my wallet. She rolls her eyes and takes the cash from the counter, separating it out into stacks of fives and ones, while the customers behind me start clearing their throats. She finally finishes, handing me three twenties and a ten.
“Anything crisper?” I ask.
“This ain’t a bank, son.”
“Alright, alright,” I tell her as I put the money away and take my bag off the counter.
“Don’t you want your hand gel?” she calls after me as I walk away.
“That’s for you,” I tell her. “I actually do work at Times Square Hunks. You’re very percipient.” I grin at her and hook my thumb on the hem of my jeans, enjoying the look of shock and disgust on her face.
“The word’s perceptive,” she says back to me.
“Yes, my apologies for my maltreatment of the English lexicon. And might I add that I’ve very much enjoyed your disparaging contumely this afternoon?” I don’t like when people are judgmental, and I dislike it even more when they act like they’re better than me. “I noticed you sell dictionaries on the office supply aisle. Have a resplendent day.”
The couple that had been behind me begins to clap on my way out the door. It’s nice to be reminded that there are other educated people in the city. My mother always tells me that it takes all kinds. Life would be boring if we were all the same.
“Mom?” I call out, hoping she hears me through her closed door.
I set my bags down in my bedroom on my way in. My brothers look curiously at the drug store sack. “Work stuff,” I tell them both, obscuring its presence with my laptop bag. I glance in my closet, then leave to find my mother.
“Mom?” I ask again before I knock on her door.
“Just wondering where you put the tux. Is it in there?”
She’s silent for a few seconds, and I don’t even require an answer. I knew I couldn’t trust her to go pick up the suit. She opens the door and looks at me apologetically.
“Fine, Mom, just let me have the money I gave you, and I’ll go get it myself.”
“I, um…” She shakes her head and walks back to her bed.
“Where’s my money?”
“The boys needed some things, and I– I forgot it was yours, Jonny, I’m sorry!”
“What did they need?”
“No, Mom, I bought groceries yesterday. We have plenty of food. Do you have any of the money left?”
“Maybe…” she mutters. I walk closer, examining her bloodshot eyes and dark pupils. She’s been drinking again, and God only knows what else.
“Great. This night is important to me. It’s important to Olivia. How am I supposed to take her to prom without a tux?”
“You have that nice suit–”
I slam her door on the way out. Will comes into the living room.
“She’s sick again?” he asks me.
“Yeah,” I say, short. “Can you take care of Max tonight? If I ever make it out, I’m not planning on coming back until the morning. There’s an after party.”
“We’ll be fine,” my brother tells me. “Jocelyn’s next door. She already came to check on us once.”
“Okay.” I follow him back into our room to get my cell phone to call my uncle. “Ray?” I ask when he picks up.
“I need a favor, I’m really sorry.”
“What is it?”
“I gave Mom two-hundred dollars to pick up my tux for prom, and she spent it on booze. I hate to ask you this, but can I borrow some money? I can’t show up to Livvy’s house not wearing a tux–”
“Yeah, Jon, it’s fine. Sure. Is that all?”
“Not exactly. Is there anyway you could go pick it up and bring it here? I have to start getting ready, and I’ll never make it in time. It’s that shop that’s two blocks north of your place.”
“Sure. Don’t worry about it. I’m on my way.”
This day isn’t going quite as I’d planned.
I feel a little better after I take a shower. Wiping the condensation from the mirror, I look at the day-old growth of hair on my lip, jawline and chin. I know Olivia likes the look, but it’s not appropriate for tonight. Plus, I plan to kiss her – a lot – and I don’t want to mar her soft skin with my stubble.
Tripping over Max’s shoes on my way out of the shower, I notice my two brothers huddled in secrecy in a corner.
“What are you doing?” I ask them, reaching for the bag to get my razors.
“Nothing!” Max says, but clearly they’re doing something.
Inside the shopping sack is one item – the package of razors.
“What?” he asks.
“Get in the bathroom now, and bring them with you.”
“Now!” I yell. He grabs the three boxes and heads to the bathroom where he closes the commode lid and takes a seat. I shut the door behind me and lock it.
“Jon?” I hear my youngest brother outside the door.
“Max, buddy, we’ll be right out. Why don’t you get out your Legos and we’ll build something before I leave?”
I glare at Will as I lather the shaving cream on my face. “Do you have questions?” I ask him. He stares at the three packages in his hands. “Do you know what those are?”
“Of course I do.”
“What’s so fascinating about them? Why’d you take them, huh?”
“Why do you need different ones?”
“Because they… they make it better. They do different things.”
“What’s the box say?” I ask him, not wanting to explain this to him.
“Her Pleasure, Char–”
“I know what it says,” I interrupt him as I start shaving. “What don’t you understand?”
“Isn’t sex always good?” Will asks.
“For guys, most of the time, yeah. For girls, it can be uncomfortable at times… or, with different condoms, it can make it a little better.”
“Why would it be uncomfortable?”
“Think about it, Will. Think of the mechanics of sex for a minute. You know how it happens.”
“What’s a lubricant?”
“Why couldn’t you mind your own business? I’d love to have this talk with you, but Livvy’s expecting me in forty-five minutes.”
“Are you and Livvy gonna have sex?”
Fortunately, the razor is nowhere near my face when he asks the question. I drop it in the sink, caught off guard by his curiosity, and a little excited by the reminder.
I can’t help but smile.
“Yes, Will. We are.”
“Does Mom know?”
“No, she doesn’t know. It’s not any of her business… just like it’s not any of yours.”
“What if I tell her?”
“Why would you do that?”
“Give me ten dollars.”
I scoff at him. “Seriously, you would not be asking me for money if you knew how my day was going. I’m not giving you ten dollars. I don’t care if she knows. I’m eighteen. I’m an adult. I’m allowed to have sex.
“I can guarantee if you tell her, you will be forced to endure an awkward conversation with Mom about sex and masturbation and orgasms and erections and ejaculation.” I think I’ve covered the most embarrassing topics I can think of for a fourteen-year-old boy to talk about with his mother.
Will looks genuinely afraid. “I won’t say anything to anyone.”
“Thank you. That’s very mature of you.”
“Can I go now?”
“Yeah.” I continue shaving as he opens the door. “Will, we can talk about stuff tomorrow, okay? You can ask me anything you want. Deal?”
“Deal,” he says.
A few minutes later, he returns with my uncle in tow. “Jonny, you should push your hair back,” Ray says. “It’s neater.”
“She likes it like this.” Even though it’s not long enough to fall over my eyes anymore, it’s still a little messy. She’s told me she likes it this way.
“Doesn’t matter,” he says with a shrug as he hangs the covered tux on the door knob. “Formal attire requires something different. Trust me.” He runs his fingers through his own head of hair, showing me what I should do.
Formal attire. I hope this tux is nice enough for Livvy. It costs more than I’d wanted to spend on a rented tux, but I’d enlisted the help of the shop owner by confiding in her who my date was going to be. She immediately steered me away from the rack I had been combing through, taking me across the room to a section that was noticeably lacking in racks. She had an assistant help us find the right size and fit. When I had seen the final price, I was deflated. There was no way I could come up with that sort of money in a week.
Sensing my disappointment, she asked if I could meet her half-way. Even that was a stretch, but it was a nice tux and such a generous offer that I agreed to it. I’d taken on extra students all week. I was lucky it was the end of the year, and that so many kids in my school were desperate to pass their finals.
That’s why it’s such a disappointment that my own mother squandered the money I’d worked for, and saved.
“Thanks for the loan,” I tell my uncle, focusing on my hair once more. I smooth it back, examining it from both sides. “Better?”
“Looks good, Jon.”
“Okay,” I sigh, turning to face him. “I’ll pay you back in a few weeks.”
“No, no.” He shakes his head. “Consider it my graduation present to you. You’ve worked so hard, kid. You’re getting out of this.” He looks around our humble apartment. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Wow, thank you.”
“You’ve earned it. Where’s Margie?”
“In her bedroom.”
“Your brothers gonna be okay?” He’s kind to ask, even though he has no relationship with them. He’s never been a big fan of my mom.
“Give them my number, just in case. We’ve got no plans tonight. You need a night off, so don’t worry about anything. Got it?”
I smile. I have a feeling once I see Olivia, I won’t be thinking about much else. “Got it.”
“Good.” My uncle shakes my hand and starts toward the door. I follow him to show him out. “Listen,” he starts quietly, leaning into me, “there’s a little something in the pocket. Use it.” I can feel my cheeks redden, and my only response is a quick nod. “Have fun.”
“Jon,” Max whines as I walk past him to the bathroom. “You said you’d build something with me.”
“Buddy, I know, but I’m really late. Will?” I address my other brother who’s looking through one of my old Wired magazines. “Can you please spend a few minutes with him?”
“That’s all I ever do,” he complains.
I check the alarm clock. “I’ll take you to the gaming shop tomorrow afternoon.”
“Really?” Since we can’t afford a console, it’s a special treat to go play on the ones at the store in midtown. They normally let him play for a solid hour before giving us dirty looks, their way of letting us know other customers are wanting to play. The signs on the wall say to limit games to fifteen minutes, so I know they’re doing us a favor.
“Yeah.” He tosses my magazine onto my bed and takes a seat on the floor next to Max, adding to the base of blocks my youngest brother has already pieced together.
After applying a little cologne I’d gotten at Macy’s – it was just a sample, but I’m certain it will last me a lifetime since it’s a rare occasion that I actually wear any – I dress quickly in my borrowed clothes. I feel like a different person in the nice tux, and imagine a life where I could actually afford to own suits like this. I have to achieve that life if I want Livvy. I know this, and this is why I work as hard as I do. She deserves nothing less than the life she’s used to.
I toss the condoms into my father’s old leather shaving kit bag, along with some other basic toiletries. I consider bringing a change of clothes, but I don’t know how that will look to Jack and Emi. I can just wear my pants and undershirt tomorrow.
“Max, how do I look?” I assume my fourteen-year-old brother doesn’t really care.
“Nice,” he answers, barely looking away from the fort they’re building. Will glances, too, but doesn’t say anything.
“Thanks.” One last check in the mirror, and I’m ready to go to the Holland’s home. I don’t bother telling my mother goodbye. I’m sure she’s passed out anyway.
After the cab drops me off, I put my small bag behind the front left tire of Livvy’s car. My heart is racing by the time I get to her doorstep. I’m afraid her parents will see every indecent impulsion written all over my face. I try to force our plans to the back of my mind. If only the prom committee’s alternate plan of a masquerade ball had come to fruition… while the idea seemed bromidic when it had been suggested, I can see the benefits now.
In ten minutes, we’ll be on our way. I can get through the next ten minutes. Fifteen, tops. Emi will probably want to take pictures. In her sobriety, my mother might actually appreciate that. I use the vintage, silver-plated door knocker to notify the family of my arrival. I check my watch, relieved that I made it on time.
“Hey…” Livvy’s cousin, Clara, answers the door. “She can’t go.”
“What?” I ask, my heart sinking.
“Jack changed his mind. Sucks, I know, but–”
“Clara, my God,” Emi says disapprovingly, rushing to my rescue at the door, “don’t do that to him! Come in, Jon, she’s just putting on some finishing touches.”
“Good,” I sigh, giving her cousin a swift glare as I step into the foyer. “That wasn’t funny,” I say, but still let out a nervous chuckle.
“Jon, you look handsome,” Lexi, another cousin of Livvy’s, says.
“It’s okay?” I ask, looking to Emi for an answer.
“Oh, yes,” she says with an exaggerated nod. “It’s perfect, Jon.”
“You’re not nervous, are you?” Clara asks as she motions to my fidgeting hands.
“I am a little, yeah.”
“Why? What would you have to be nervous about?” I deduce from her pointed question that Livvy has told her what our plans are for this evening, but I try to play it off casually.
“I think it’s just the tux,” I answer. “I’ve never worn one before. And, you know, I’m taking Livvy Holland to prom. I think that would make just about any guy nervous.”
“Clara, leave him alone,” Lexi says.
“Livvy’s gonna flip when she sees you, don’t worry.”
“Oh, Livvy,” Emi gasps quietly. I look to the basement stairs, but finally see her coming down from the third floor, clinging to Jack’s arm. She lets go suddenly, walking in front of her father.
She looks– I can’t breathe, or blink. This is one of those moments I’d like to suspend time so I could take in every nuance of her. I’m not sure there’s a word that exists that describes her beauty. If it does, I certainly haven’t learned it yet, and libidinous doesn’t work tonight. In her floor-length, deep-bordeaux colored gown, she looks demure; so young, and innocent and pure. She looks nothing like any of the girls who were at prom last year.
As a junior, I’d been on the committee and helped organize the event, and as I sat back and checked people off the list as they arrived, I struggled to find the attraction in many of the girls, and I questioned the dresses they chose. The skirts were short and the colors as loud as their ear-splitting squeals when their favorite top 40 songs began to play.
Livvy is in a whole other class of girls. I’d known that most of my life, but the fact never manifested itself in real life. I always saw Olivia as my equal. Tonight, I realize how very wrong I am. I had such expectations for tonight, but I never expected this woman to be my date. My high expectations couldn’t even anticipate who’s actually in front of me.
My eyes dance around, trying to find a place to settle, but I don’t want to miss anything. A tiny sparkling belt accentuates her thin waist. The strapless dress highlights her shoulders, collarbone and a modest, elegant necklace. I imagine kissing her gently near the hollow beneath her ear. Her long hair is pulled back and secured by a crystal headband– or maybe they’re diamonds. The way the soft light in the foyer hits the stones give it the appearance of a halo, framing her beautiful face.
“You didn’t hold back, did you?” I ask her, touching the smooth skin of her arm, and then feeling the heavy fabric of her dress between my fingers. I’m so glad I went with this tux.
“Is it too much?” Her fingers lift to play with the string of tiny diamonds around her neck. I smile as I see the ring I’d placed on her finger. As much as I don’t feel like I belong with her, the fact that she’s wearing my ring tells me she doesn’t feel the same.
“Absolutely,” I respond. Her face falls slightly. “Too much for me to take in.” I hope my smile lets her know how stunning she looks. For the first time since she let go of her father’s arm, I notice him behind her. “Hi, Jack.”
“Jon, how are you this evening?”
“Great,” I answer quickly, looking once more at Livvy. Olivia. “I have never seen a more beautiful woman.” As I feel the burning on my cheeks, I can see I’ve caused the same reaction on her.
“Oh,” Emi sighs.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Jack says after getting my attention again, “but Anna tends to go overboard.” He hands me two silver cufflinks with deep red enamel and tiny clear stones in the center.
“Wow, they’re very nice. I’ve never owned any cufflinks.” Emi steps in and takes my left arm, adjusting my dress shirt and fastening the gifts in place. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Jack responds.
“And they’re neutral enough that you should be able to get a lot of wear out of them, for interviews or whatever,” his wife adds.
“You look perfect,” Livvy says to me. Her compliment relaxes me.
“Thank you.” I put my hand behind her ear to bring her face to mine, and I kiss her cautiously. Her touch ignites me. She may look angelic tonight, but I feel the longing, smoldering urgency behind her kiss.
“Careful with the lipstick,” Clara interrupts. I pull back, looking at Livvy’s ambrosial lips as I wipe my own with my thumb. She smiles, more with her eyes than her mouth. We stare at one another until her cousin interrupts us, encouraging Emi to take pictures.
Livvy bounces on her heels, impatient. “Do we have to?” I love that she’s impatient, but I’d love to capture her in this moment. Tomorrow, she may look different to me.
“Please, do,” I encourage her as I squeeze her hand. Emi stands nearby, camera poised, as Clara gives me a corsage made of dark red flowers. I recognize the camellias in both the adornment she’ll wear, and the one Livvy holds in her hand for me. I look at her curiously, wondering where to pin the flower on her strapless dress. Surely I’m not supposed to touch her there, with her parents right here. I lift my hand tentatively. “How do I do this?”
Livvy offers me her other arm, and it takes me a second to find the elastic strap on the corsage.
“That makes more sense,” I say quietly, exhaling, happy I didn’t go ahead and try to pin it anywhere remotely near her breast. Jack would have killed me, I’m pretty certain.
I slide it over her hand, and then take her fingers in mine. She watches my expression, and I wonder if she can tell I still have the thought of her breasts in my head.
“Here.” She takes a step closer and pins the boutonniere on my lapel; her hand remains on my chest. I guess we’re thinking similar things. After a few more pictures, we head outside, ready to start our night together. Jack leads the way, but stops me before we get to the car.
“I just want your word – both of you – that if you have any alcohol tonight–”
“And you can’t, by the way,” Emi says.
“We won’t,” Livvy affirms when she catches up.
“If you do, though, I just want your word that you will not get behind the wheel. Even if it’s just one drink.” I’m surprised. It sounds like he’s anticipating us to act like stereotypical high school prom-goers. I wonder if he’s considered anything else. I swallow quickly and look her father in the eyes.
“I promise, Jack, we won’t do either of those things.”
“Thank you.” He passes Livvy’s keys to me. “Just remember that you’ve got my only daughter with you. My Contessa.” I raise my eyebrows at his possessive declaration. “No matter what she may become to you in the distant future.” He looks like he may be teasing us, but I hear his message loud and clear. “She’ll always be my princess first. And there is no one in the world quite like her.”
“I have to agree,” I tell him, looking at my girlfriend. She watches her dad with silent admiration.
“She’s my sixteen-year-old princess. Got it?”
“Yes, sir.” I bite my tongue and force a smile.
“It’s Jack. We’ve been over this.”
I sense his words describing his daughter are less of a warning to me, and more of a plea with Livvy. By now, he has probably learned that I’m pretty headstrong and confident in my decisions and actions. I fear what he’s said is making Livvy re-think our plans, though, and I have no doubt this is the exact result he’s going for.
“Yes, sir. Good night, Jack.” I shake hands with him before opening the passenger door for Livvy. As she tells her father goodnight, I pick up my bag and discreetly place it behind the driver’s seat before sitting behind the wheel. The car is silent after Livvy shuts her door. I watch as she inhales and exhales a few times. She’s still watching as her father goes into the house, her head turned deliberately away from me. I think I hear her sniffle as I start the car.
“Are you ready?”
Her gaze lingers on her parents a little longer before she answers. She turns to me with moist eyes and nods. “I think so.”
I reach across the console, bringing her face to mine for another kiss. It’s definitely less passionate than the one we shared a few minutes ago in her house. Damn you, Jack.
Aside from a brief conversation about which hotel I was taking her to tonight, we haven’t discussed our plans for the rest of the evening. While Livvy’s been affectionate with me, she still appears to be holding back. After taking a break and talking to some of my friends, we head back to the dance floor when Livvy suspects she’s been discovered by my classmates.
“If you’re ready to go, we can go. Anytime,” I offer, testing the waters.
“I’m okay,” she answers without looking at me. She closes her eyes before touching her lips to mine quickly. I watch her as she pulls away, until her gaze meets mine.
Reaching to the sparkling jewels that hold her hair in place, I sigh before I speak, already feeling rejected. “Your dad is right. With this tiara, you do look like a princess.”
“Tiara,” she giggles lightly. “It’s just a headband.”
“So, you’re going to tell me, when you went out and tried this on, you didn’t think to yourself, ‘Wow! I look like a princess!?’”
She laughs louder. “I didn’t buy it. In fact, I’ve only glanced at myself for a few seconds with it on.” Her expression changes, and her voice softens. “Does it look pretentious?”
I would imagine to all the other girls in the room, the answer would be yes. I’ve seen the jealous stares, because Livvy can’t go unnoticed or overlooked. Even though we’d made it through most of prom without her being recognized as Jack Holland’s daughter, she is still such a rousing presence in this room tonight. “No, it looks stunning,” I answer her, because it does. She does. “Did your mom buy it for you?” I ask her innocently, although I already know she didn’t.
“My dad gave it to me.” Of course he did. Livvy seems to frown as something across the room grabs her attention. She adjusts my necktie absentmindedly, as if her thoughts are elsewhere. I pull her close and dance quietly with her, accepting that this is probably as far as we’ll go tonight.
“It is a tiara, isn’t it?” she asks as she pushes it back a little on her head. Her eyes water.
“Your daddy’s princess. He’s good.”
“What do you mean?” she asks coyly.
“You’re not going to let me take you to the hotel tonight, are you?”
She watches for my reaction as she shakes her head. No.
I assure her that I love her as we make plans to spend the night at her parents’ house. I think I do a fairly good job of hiding my disappointment.
Livvy stands close to me as we wait for the valet to bring around her car. We decide on a late dinner, but can’t agree on a place yet. She straightens my pocket square.
“That’s a lot!” she exclaims, pulling something out of my pocket. She cups her findings in her hand, obscuring them from me and everyone else. Use it, I hear my uncle’s voice. How many did he put in there!?
“Oh, my god,” I say quickly, placing my hands around hers. She clamps her fingers around the condoms tightly.
“What in the world were you planning tonight?” she exclaims a little louder than I’m comfortable with.
“Just, you know… I didn’t put those in there, Liv. My uncle did. I mean, when you see what I packed, you’ll probably think the same… but it’s not what you think. I just want you to be able to pick which kind you want. That’s all.” I stare into her eyes, hoping she knows I hadn’t planned on using what appears to be a handful of condoms tonight. I figured I’d be lucky to use one.
She looks at me sideways. “Huh?”
Hushed, I continue. “I want you to be able to choose which one you think will make you the most comfortable.” I kiss her cheek, eyeing one of the other valets and wishing they would hurry with the car.
Livvy narrows her eyes. She looks absolutely gorgeous, even if she’s angry with me.
“This one,” she states loudly, producing a one-hundred dollar bill and waving it in my face. Cash? That’s what we’re talking about? I grab it quickly, but she replaces that one with two more. “One of these, then?”
I take her hand in mine to obscure the cash once again, looking around to make sure no one sees her flaunting the money.
“You can’t flash bills like that around here, Liv,” I tell her cautiously as she releases the money into my hands.
“Fine, but what did you think I was talking about?”
“What do you think?”
“Condoms?” she whispers. I nod, helping her into her car that’s just arrived. She starts laughing. “How many did you bring?”
I shut her door without answering and walk to the driver’s side, where the valet waits with the key. Not thinking, I almost hand him a hundred as a tip. Quickly, I find my wallet and give him a smaller bill. I can’t believe Uncle Ray gave me $300. Our options for dinner just got a lot better, but I wonder what he’d intended for me to spend it on. The hotel? I certainly wouldn’t think so.
“Tell me,” she urges on, grasping my arm as soon as I settle in to the bucket seat. “Where are they?”
I shake my head as I pull away from the curb, admonishing myself for buying them in the first place. I jinxed myself, and ruined my chances with her – at least for tonight.
“They’re in a bag on the floor behind my seat.”
“I didn’t see you carrying anything earlier,” she says as she reaches behind me.
“I didn’t think a shaving kit bag was an appropriate accessory for prom night, so I hid it before I went inside your house.”
“You really wanted this, didn’t you?” And this is her question before she unzips the bag. “Thirty?” She takes out all three boxes, her laughter filling the car but killing my confidence. “You brought thirty?”
“Did you not hear my explanation earlier?” I ask, embarrassed. “I just wanted you to be comfortable,” I tell her softly. I keep my eyes on the road, waiting for a response, but she’s silent for at least a minute and a half as she puts the boxes back and zips up the bag once more.
“Jon, I’m sorry.”
“Please don’t apologize, Olivia. I guess I knew there was a chance you’d change your mind. Jack gets his wish. I’ll wait for you.”
“You think my dad was being manipulative?”
“I just think he was being a father. I think he was reminding you that you had other options. I think he knew what we were up to.”
“If he knew, he never would have let me stay out all night with you.”
“Maybe it was a test.”
“Well then we pass!” she says brightly. “Since you have all that money, can we go to Cucina Roja for dinner?”
I glance over at her, showing my disapproval at the sudden segue. “I really wanted this,” I admit to her, not ready to shut the door on the possibility. It’s early, and maybe given a little more time, she’ll remember how much she wanted me before he put the damn crown on her head. “You’ve been his little girl for sixteen years.”
“Technically, only twelve.”
“His time is over, Liv.” She gnaws on the inside of her cheek as she stares at me. “I want my time. You were once his little Contessa, I get that; but you’re my Olivia now.”
She smiles at me with a flush of red, placing her hand on top of mine.
“I would never take that lightly,” I vow.
“Just think about it over dinner. That’s all I ask. If you still don’t want to after that, it’s fine. I’ll enjoy making out with you and watching movies, and I won’t pressure you – too much.”
“You shouldn’t pressure me at all.”
“You’re right.” I luck into finding a parking spot directly across from the restaurant she requested. “Wait,” I instruct her as I get out of her Audi.
She exits the car gracefully as I steady her with my hand. “Thank you.”
“You make the decisions tonight. Cucina Roja,” I nod at the modern building facade. I would never choose this place to eat tonight because of its exorbitant prices and food selection, but I’ve been curious to see the interior after it had been featured in a design magazine. “And you’ve decided it’s a no to sex.”
She shushes me as she dips her head to the ground. When I look away, I notice people are staring at us – or really just at her. It could be because she really does look like a princess tonight, or it could be because she is local royalty. We enter the restaurant quickly, not wanting to find out which one.
“How many in your party?” the host asks. It’s one of the few times she isn’t greeted by name, and seated immediately. Maybe they truly don’t recognize her.
“Two,” I answer for us as Livvy looks at him curiously.
“Prom night?” he asks.
“Yep.” I immediately feel nervous and tense with other patrons standing in such close proximity. From the lobby, this place isn’t so spectacular.
“The wait is twenty minutes,” he says, when out of no where another man swoops in and takes one of Livvy’s hands in his.
“What Allen meant to say, Miss Holland, is that your table is ready for you.” I’m suddenly relieved, but uncomfortable with the fact that I’ve come to expect special treatment when I’m with her. I never want to get used to that.
Beyond the front wall, I am witness to all the architectural details I’d admired in the magazine. As my girlfriend is escorted to our seats, I stop and study the textured wall and touch the furniture. Now that I’m inside, I realize the glossy pictures didn’t do the place justice. I wasn’t excited about coming here when Livvy suggested it – Latin food can be rather heavy, and I knew it was further evidence that she wasn’t going to change her mind about our plans – but now I’m inspired and invigorated… or at the very least, distracted.
Once we’re directed to our seats, I examine the craftsmanship of the chair as the manager helps Livvy into hers. Every detail is well planned and coordinated. Once again, I’m grateful to call Manhattan my home, because I’m sure there aren’t many other places that would be lucky enough to have such masterfully and meticulously designed spaces. I would imagine this wouldn’t be appreciated so much in middle America.
“Good choice,” I tell her from across the table.
“I thought you’d like it,” she says. “I saw how you’d dog-eared the pages.”
“You picked this place for me?” She nods with a cute smile. “Thank you.”
“I was thinking about taking you here for graduation, but I have something else in mind, so… why not tonight?”
“It’s perfect, Liv.”
A waiter takes our drink order and recommends a special appetizer that’s not on the menu. Both of us starving, we told him we’d like to order it before even listening to the ingredients. Horseradish isn’t too common in Latin food… I don’t think.
“Can you get a refund on the hotel?” she asks me bluntly.
“Ummm… no, but it’s okay.” I shake my head, making sure she understands it’s not a big deal. Sure, it would be nice to have the money for other things, but it was spent for her, with her in mind, in hopes of us having a very special night together. I figure we can still do that. We just can’t do everything… and anything we can do, we’ll have to do two stories beneath her parents’ bedroom.
“I hate to waste the money. I know you’ve been working extra for it. Let me pay for dinner tonight–”
“No,” I laugh. “Uncle Ray apparently gave me lots of cash in lieu of contraception… which now I find is much more useful to me tonight.” The smile can’t hide the lingering disappointment, and I feel like an ass, but I want her to know.
“Well, especially since you brought enough of your own for your entire senior class.” She says it with a straight face, and for a minute, I sense she’s upset. She lets out a giggle a few seconds later, to my relief.
“I love you,” I tell her. “I just want to show you.”
“I love you, too,” she returns. “And I’ll show you soon. I promise.” She reaches her hand across the table, taking mine into hers.
“I just don’t know when we’ll ever have another opportunity like this.”
“Just… we will, okay? When it’s meant to happen.” She lets go of me and reaches up to straighten her tiara. That’s all I see it as now. Headband, tiara… it’s a token to show she’s the privileged daughter of the great Jackson Holland. Even knowing what it symbolizes, though, the way it frames her face and casts light into her hair and onto her forehead, she’s never looked more beautiful. It’s like with that one trinket, he’s made her the most desirable and the most untouchable woman, all at once.
“Have I told you how alluring you look tonight?”
“It’s not gonna work, Jon,” she whines.
“You’re misunderstanding me, Olivia. It’s fine. I know I can’t have you tonight, but I want you to know how much I want to be with you.”
“Jon!” she admonishes in a whisper.
“The crown makes me want you even more.”
“It’s a headband–”
“It’s a chastity belt, if you want to know the truth.” Her laughter is loud this time. Moving quickly past my frustration, I join in with her. “Did you have fun tonight?”
“It’s not over yet.”
“At prom, though.”
“It was lovely,” she says. “I loved dancing with you and kissing you.”
“I did, too. I couldn’t have been more proud to have you as my date.”
“I couldn’t be more proud to have you as my boyfriend.” I shake off her compliment.
Over dinner, she asks me about the friends of mine she’d met tonight, noting how I never really talk about them. It’s not that I can’t make friends. It’s more that none of the people at my school interest me or challenge me. In the past two years, I feel like I’ve aged ten, and it seems like the things they struggle with are minuscule and trivial compared to what I’ve been through.
Curfews, alcohol and grades are all things I never have to think about. My mom’s not around or awake to even care where I am at night, but for the sake of my brothers, I make sure they always know where I am and how to find me. I’d never need to worry about being drunk because I’d seen too often the kind of destruction it could cause, again thanks to my mother. And grades? My father was the one who encouraged me to make good grades, but it turns out I didn’t need it. I like learning. I always want to know more and understand more.
“Where did you tell your brothers you were going tonight?”
“Prom and an after party. They know I’m not coming home.”
“Your mom was okay with that?”
“Of course,” I tell her. Ashamed, I lie to her. “They were going to build a fort in the living room and read ghost stories. Mom had the whole night planned for them.”
“That sounds fun!”
“Yeah,” I say, grateful that the waiter interrupts with the check. After glancing at the total, I insert two of the bills my uncle had given me and hand it back. “You ready?”
“I am. I’m tired.”
“No,” I laugh, standing and taking her hand in mine. “Just because we’re going back to your house doesn’t mean you can be tired.”
“I need my second wind,” she declares. After helping her into the car and getting in myself, I give it to her in the form of a kiss that’s sure to awaken all of her senses. When we break away, I know she’s rethinking the hotel room. She doesn’t say it, but she doesn’t have to.
Even if she did, though, I still would have taken her to her palace, the modest three-story brownstone occupied by the one and only Jackson Holland.
At her house, she’s affectionate, and confident that her parents will leave us alone in the basement after hanging a small sign in the foyer notifying them of our presence when they thought she’d be gone all night. I’m not so sure, so we leave the light on upstairs to make it easier for us to see if someone’s coming down – not that they’ll catch us having sex. I even left the condoms in her car just to make sure I’m not tempted to try to convince her anymore. I know how sex will seem like such a good idea when I’m making out with her, because that’s what she does to me; makes me irrational… and I do intend to make out with her – for as long as she’ll let me.
Impatient with the careful way she maneuvers herself down the stairs, I pick her up and carry her, delivering her to the entry to her bedroom. I know I’m not allowed.
“Go put something else on,” I encourage her after feeling the reminder of the heavy fabric and seeing evidence of multiple additional layers underneath her gown. She teases me for a minute, but then agrees to it, nudging me out of her room and shutting the door behind me.
Excited, I sit down on the couch, wringing my hands again. I look around the room for things to make it more comfortable and private, locating additional pillows and a couple of blankets. After setting them at the end of the sofa, I take off my shoes, socks and jacket. Upon further consideration, I remove my dress shirt, too, anxious to have her attentive lips on my tattoo.
Finally, she opens her door, only to reveal that the only thing she’s done is pull her hair down (which I love) and switch necklaces to the one I had given her (which is sweet, like she’s choosing me over her dad). The dress is still on, though, as is the tiara. Daddy wins.
“Change of heart?” I ask her.
She blinks quickly. “I can’t get it unfastened.” I’m immediately on my feet to help her. I’d dreamed of undressing her. I still get a little bit of that privilege. After moving her hair aside, I find the hook and unlink it, hoping she’ll let me do more.
“Do you need help with the zipper, too?
“Just a little,” she says meekly. I ignore her when she tells me to stop when the zipper meets the middle of her back, and I stare at what she’s wearing beneath the dress. At least I know she had planned on going to the hotel with me when she got dressed tonight. I can only imagine how sexy she looks from the front. She holds the dress up and squirms away from me as my eyes linger. “Shut the door! I have to change.”
I don’t move a muscle. “Is that a corset?”
“No,” she answers, then follows with, “it’s a bustier.” Even better.
“Jon, my parents will kill me.”
Parents. Right. I move back into her doorway and glance to my right, taking my eyes off her for only a second. “The good thing about that foyer light we left on, Liv, is that the second anyone steps foot at the top of the stairs, they will cast a huge shadow that I won’t miss.”
“Still…” The way she looks up at me through her lashes tells me she wants to show me.
“Can I please see what I’m missing?”
“Why do you want to torture yourself like that?”
“Just… please?” I plead with her. “I’ll stay right here. I’ll admire you from afar, even though you said you didn’t want that.”
She watches me, as if she’s testing me to see if I’ll keep my word. I keep my feet planted firmly into the carpet, waiting, hoping.
She glances into the mirror briefly but then reaches around with her left hand and finishes unzipping the dress. I thought she would hesitate more, but she steps out of it confidently, her heels still adorning her feet.
“Oh, god.” I move toward her without thinking.
“Stay there. Watch for the shadows.” As I move away from her, a direction that feels unnatural and unfair, she moves toward me, exactly where I need her. I glance once more at the stairs before she’s kissing me, her hands in my hair. I take advantage of the amount of clothes she’s wearing – or rather, not wearing – and explore her soft curves. When I’d fantasized about this moment, she wasn’t wearing anything, but this isn’t so bad. Her body is rigid, though, and I can tell she’s extremely nervous.
“There.” She nods as if she’s just accomplished a major feat and takes off her shoes. “See, you’re not missing anything.” I beg to differ.
Or at least I beg.
“Keep it on, please.”
She looks at me as if I’m crazy. “I can’t just go lounge on the couch with this on.”
“Well, of course, put something over it.” Again losing my patience and wanting her in my arms and not across the room, I nearly stomp to the closet and pull out the pink and red sweater she’d worn on Valentine’s Day. That was another wonderful day. I hand it to her, then resume to my watch post. “That’s good.”
She smiles, realizing why I chose it. “Easy access?”
I shrug my shoulders. She puts it on quickly, and then finds some shorts to pull over her panties. I can’t even see them beneath the sweater. Even half-dressed, she’s the sexiest woman I’ve ever seen.
She walks over to my awaiting arms. “One last thing,” I say, reaching for the tiara. She swats my hand away.
“Not tonight. I want to keep it on.” Without giving me a moment to argue, she embraces me and leads me to the couch.
I hate that stupid crown. He already got his way. I don’t like the constant reminder.
After she’s comfortable on the couch, I lay down next to her. She rearranges some pillows, and then tugs on my arm, pulling me on top of her. At least she wants to make out… and not just a little. She slides her legs apart, allowing my body to settle between them.
Still… I sigh. “The second you’re ready to take off that tiara–”
“You’ll be the first to know.”
“You won’t miss it,” I assure her quickly. Her tongue barely peeks out to moisten her lips, and I take my sign and kiss her fully. Her fingers dip just below the waistband of my pants and press into me. “In fact,” I start as she begins to gasp for breath between kisses, “I bet I can make you forget all about it.” I pull up her knee to make more room, and I move against her slowly.
“I bet you can,” she whispers. She takes my face into her hands and holds it at a distance, getting my full attention. “Just not tonight. I can’t tonight. I keep hearing him say how I’m his princess.” I think she’s about to cry.
She doesn’t need to worry about me pressuring her. I’m only teasing her, and I’m fairly sure she knows it. “Even with me, right here, doing this to you?” I taunt her, press against her, letting her feel every inch of me. A tear escapes her eye when she nods. I wipe it away with my thumb and smile reassuringly at her. “Well, Olivia, I look forward to the day when I can make you mine.” Wanting to make sure she’s okay, I move beside her again. Instead of feeling her body, I caress her face and give her light kisses that I hope comfort her. I don’t want her to cry.
Her hand starts to massage my upper back where her tattoo remains an abiding reminder of the permanence I feel about her and about us. She smiles as I start to play with her curls, but then her lips are back on mine, and her hands find their way under my shirt. I gasp as she scrapes her nails over my abdominal muscles. This seems to cause a response in her, and she moves on her side, putting her leg over mine and taking a quick breath of air when she feels my thigh against her. She smiles.
“Olivia…” I rub the back of her neck, wanting to release all the tension from her body. She moves against me. I move against her, and she pulls me closer.
“I love you, Jon.”
I don’t waste a second. “I love you, too.” I press her back into the couch and move back on top of her. It’s where I want to be, and clearly where she wants me. I kiss her everywhere I can, every exposed part of her upper body, careful not to interrupt her rhythm – our rhythm. At the moment she begins to pull off my shirt, I help her, and her movements cause her headband to fall.
Her chastity belt.
I hear it hit the floor, and she lets go of my shirt on top of it, covering up all the evidence of it ever being there. She’s mine. From this moment on, I know she’s mine, and although she won’t give herself to me fully tonight, she’s giving me enough.
At five in the morning, she wakes me up with a groan. She’d stayed in my arms all night on the couch, and I don’t think either of us had moved a muscle. My body aches, too. I had slept comfortably, although not soundly. I kept waking up, wondering what Jack would say if he came down and found me shirtless under a blanket with his daughter. She was fully clothed. She had been all night, although the bustier was removed at some point. It was her doing, not mine.
“I want to go to bed,” she tells me, her voice crackly. I kiss her forehead. She hasn’t even opened her eyes.
“I should go.”
“Mmm-hmmm,” she agrees. I wait for her to move, and after a few minutes, I realize she’s fallen back asleep.
“Olivia.” I run my hands up and down her back until she wakes up again. “Let me help you to bed.”
“You should go,” she mumbles.
“We’ve already established that, baby,” I chuckle as I try to move her off of me gently.
“Mmmmmm,” she whines. “I don’t want to get up.”
“You’re not making sense,” I tell her, now feeling quite awake. Holding her tightly, I manage to sit up. It feels good to stretch my back muscles. “I can’t carry you, Liv. I don’t have the strength right now.”
She blinks her eyes open and looks at me curiously. “I should go to bed.”
I laugh heartily now. “Come on.”
“Where are my pants?” she asks as she crawls out from beneath the blanket.
“You weren’t wearing any.” I stand up as she does, holding on to her to steady her. “You’ve got shorts on. Remember?”
“Okay. That’s good. I’m cold.”
I guide her to her room and tuck her beneath the sheet and comforter, returning to the couch to grab the blanket, too. It’s pretty chilly in the basement.
“I love you, Olivia,” I whisper, leaning over to kiss her cheek. She’s already asleep again. After getting dressed, I quietly ascend the stairs, not wanting to awaken her brother or her parents. I unlock the deadbolt with no sound, and tweak the bottom lock on the handle to secure the door once I leave.
I start walking toward Columbus Avenue, happy that I have money left for a cab. I hail the first one I see and instruct him to my apartment. On the drive home, I can’t help but think that last night was perfect. It wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t what I was expecting. But it was perfect. I knew neither of us would have any regrets, and we’d both look back on my prom night with good memories.
When I get to the apartment, I ask the driver to wait, handing him the fare and an extra twenty before I exit the car. I take the steps two at a time to get to my home, entering quietly and going straight to my bedroom. Max is sitting up in bed.
“You okay?” I ask my youngest brother.
“I heard you come in,” he says groggily.
“Well, good. Get up and get dressed. We’re going to have breakfast.”
“At McDonalds?” he asks.
“What’s going on?” Will asks as he pulls a sheet over his head.
“Get up.” I kick his bed with my patent leather shoe. Instead of changing clothes, I just slough off the jacket and tie. “Get dressed. Breakfast is on me… not McDonald’s. Somewhere you can get practically anything you want.”
“Waffles?” Max says as he hurries out of bed. His dark hair looks like an unkempt mop on his head. I pull some clothes out of his drawer and toss them to him.
“Made while you wait.”
“I want an omelette,” Will says, still beneath his covers.
“You’ll get to pick your ingredients. Come on. The taxi’s waiting.” That gets Will moving quickly, too. I hand them both ball caps, and after looking at my own hair, I pull one on, too. While they finish getting dressed, I leave a note for my mom.
Five minutes later, we’re on our way back down to the Upper East Side. Both of my brothers are excited about their early morning adventure. The driver stops at the address I’d given him, and Will and Max stumble out of the car, looking up at the building.
“Follow me,” I tell them both. The doorman welcomes us with a smile, and I carry myself like I’m supposed to be there… because I am.
“Can I help you?” a blonde woman at the front desk asks. She looks very put together and awake for 5:45 in the morning.
“Late check-in for Jon Scott. Very late check-in,” I laugh.
She types something in her computer. “I show you have a reservation for two adults.”
“Yeah, well, now I’ve brought my brothers instead. Add their ages and they’re barely legal,” I joke with her, feeling confident.
“I’m afraid the room you booked has a king-sized bed.”
“It’s just what I asked for,” I assure her. I lean in to speak quietly to her. “We’re not going to need that. I’d just like to take advantage of the breakfast buffet.”
“Oh. So you won’t be needing the room?”
“Well, your room does come with breakfast for two.” I look at her, my eyes pleading with her. She smiles as she sighs. “But since the maid service will get a break from cleaning room 708, I think that entitles you to an extra seat at breakfast. The dining room is to your right, Mr. Scott.”
“Thank you… Olivia? Is that really your name?” I squint at her name tag once more.
“It is,” she says with a nod.
“It’s a beautiful name.” She thanks me quietly as I lead my brothers down the long, lavish hallway. Max starts skipping, and Will grins as the smell of bacon and pancakes takes over his senses.
After my brothers fill their plates – and I mean fill – we settle into a table in the corner, away from the other guests. A few of the older people stare at us, and I know I should take my cap off and ask my brothers to remove theirs, but we deserve to feel comfortable here, just like everyone else. Fortunately, Will and Max are too busy with foods they rarely have the opportunity to eat to notice anyone passing judgment, and I don’t really care.
All things considered, this morning wasn’t what I’d expected either, but I can’t help think that this is the way it was supposed to play out: a wonderful night spent with the girl I love, followed by breakfast with the two brothers I’d do anything for. It might not be ideal for other guys, but for me, it’s perfect.
©2013 Lori L. Otto