Reversal:Curio Vignettes 03(5)

By: Cara McKenna



“No, nothing like that. A familiar type. A beloved scoundrel, not a selfish one. A persuasive gentleman. A slow-burning candle between the sheets.”

“Who else?”

“A rougher man, with a foul mouth and punishing hips,” I say with a smile. “The sort who’d never bed a woman beneath a stitch of covers.”

She purses her lips then brings the glass to kiss them.

“I could be either of these men for you,” I tell her, eager to do so. Eager to be anyone but myself until the sun rises again.

“Do most women want you to be nice or mean?”

I hadn’t thought about it before, but the answer needs no pondering. “Nice.”

She nods.

“It’s not just any woman who pays a man to make love to her,” I say.

“Are most of them weird, like me?”

I smile, leaning forward to curl a dark-blonde lock behind her ear and trace her jaw. “None are so special as you.” I speak a Lothario’s words, but they’re my words as well. True down to each letter.

“But a lot of your clients must be…I don’t know. ‘Damaged’ sounds mean.”

“Many come to me needing a sense of safety or distance. A prostitute is a man one can’t get too attached to—”

“Oops,” she says, teasing herself. Just a little joke, but her meaning floods my chest with heat and pride.

“I’m not your prostitute any longer.”

“That’s true.”

“You’re welcome to get as attached to me as you wish. Though it baffles me why you might.”

Her gaze falters. “Some of them must get attached though. Despite how impossible the circumstances are.”

“Of course.”

“What do you do?”

“I end those relationships.”

“Just like that?”

I nod. “It’s the kindest way.”

She swallows. “How close did you come to doing that with us? Ending it?”

The question startles me. But she told me perhaps four visits into our arrangement that she had to stay away for a while. I was proving too expensive and she… How had she worded it? She’d been in danger of falling in love with me.

“You were the one who wanted distance,” I remind her. “You had the self-awareness to understand how worrisome your feelings ought to be. I didn’t need to scare you away. You did that job yourself.”

“I suppose.”

I clear my throat. “In truth, it would have been hard to draw that line. I’d grown attached to you as well.”

That draws a pink stain to her cheeks, a sunrise to banish my gloom.

“You must know that by now, having seen what it takes to coax me out of these walls.” That had been my first time in years, leaving this flat—going out to seek Caroly after she’d told me she needed to stay away, to protect her heart and her bank balance. It took me days to manage it, but the gesture had to be made.

I picture the twinkling cases of that old jewelry store, of gestures needed and unmade. I failed once. Perhaps that doesn’t mean I’ll fail the next time. Though the thought of a next time twists my guts into a fresh nest of knots.

Setting my cards on the table, I give her a dark, familiar look. I want to escape into a costume—any identity but the one I was born with. I want to be whatever man she has a taste for tonight.

She lets me slip the cards from her hand and scoots closer when I tug softly at her waist.

I graze my lips across hers and smile. As I toy with her hair I murmur, “I’ve missed you, since Sunday.”

“I’ve missed you.”

Five days we’ve been apart…five days and two other women stacked between this visit and the last. It’s selfish, but I wish my infidelity hurt Caroly more. I wish she’d make demands of me, need more of me, refuse to share me.

I love this woman. Yet a man in love would cross a desert for the object of his affection, swim an ocean, scale a mountain. I can’t even walk to Gobelins for mine. What exactly makes me feel I’m someone worth suffering jealousy over?

Anxiety is tugging at my sleeves with its tiny, insistent hands. Such a waste. I waste too much—entire days worth of sunshine. I won’t waste this too-short time I get with Caroly.

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