Spring was warming gracefully into bright summer. I was rummaging in my storage closet and preparing for the advent of my favorite sporting season.
It's my one athletic passion; (if fishing can be called athletics . . . I choose to think of it that way anyway.) It was my paternal grandfather who first cultivated the passion in me. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of spending lazy summer afternoons on some lake or the shore of some mountain stream, basking in his worldly wisdom, pitting my wits against the fish. I've never lost the passion. I even found time for quick weekend trips during my college years, though East Coast and West Coast fishing are two distinctly different propositions.
The phone rang one Saturday afternoon. Since it was Peter's number and not Pamela's, I answered it. It was Josh. "Hey, I know this is your day off, but I need you to come down to the office this afternoon."
"No way. It's summer and you know what that means."
"Yeah, yeah . . . 'PJ's gone fishin'. Hey, I wouldn't even bother you, but I thought you'd want to be in on this. Don't I remember that you use a lot of Peru Brand fishing tackle?"
I certainly did! It was top of the line equipment, the choice of every discriminating fly fisherman. "Yeah. I do. Why?"
" Oh. It turns out your brother may have gotten us a shot at a campaign for Peru's gear. You interested?"
Visions of free samples danced before my eyes. "Bet your ass I am! When do you need me? Never mind, I'll be down as soon as I can 'change'."
We had a planning session that afternoon down at the office. It was fun to attending an informal bull session. We had them during the week, but I didn't often get to wear a polo shirt, my "Lady Lee's" and those oh-so-much-more-comfy-than-heels Nikes to those. We ordered out for pizza and kicked some ideas around. It was fun and relaxed and I made a mental note to suggest to Josh that we do this more often.
There was a new face at the meeting today. We had agreed to take on some interns from the local Junior College's business class. I'd drawn a very promising young woman as my understudy for the next three months. Her name was Lisa McMillian. She was a perky little character, eager as hell and bright as a new-minted penny. At 17, she also had about as much time in circulation. But if she was a bit naive, she was also intelligent and a quick study. She wasn't particularly interested in art as a career, but she loved to watch the creative process as I turned raw idea into tangible image. And she more than earned her keep as a "go-fer" while she learned the ropes of the business world first hand.
I saw good things in that girl's future.
Technically, there was no great challenge to the Peru proposal. Our scouting report indicated that Peru always went with a very straightforward 'show the product, sell the product' type of advertising. Frankly, I'd probably get a 'skate' on this account. Beth DiAngelo and her team of writers would be bearing the burden. I'd probably just need to find a good photographer and sketch out some ideas for some very straight forward photos and that would be it. Oh well, it all evened out. I'd done all the work on the Giancarlo lingerie campaign and Beth had wound up with a generous share of 'skive samples'. Let her do the work this time and let me play with a brand new graphite rod! Oh man . . . or one of those new diamond-bearing casting reels!
The upshot of the planning session was a detailed pep talk from Josh about what to expect and how to behave around Aaron Peru, fifth generation president of the firm. He was a no nonsense Yankee businessman with a puritanical streak a mile wide. Josh was careful to point out that humor and fooling around was strictly 'verboten' in Mr. Peru's presence. We were all to stick to business, be professional and respectful and leave the talking to Josh.
Fine with me. I make fun of Josh for it, but he speaks the language of business diplomacy better than he speaks English. We were in good hands with him at the helm.
The meeting broke up at two P.M. with an announcement that Mr. Peru and his son Jerrod would be arriving Tuesday of the coming week. Proposals were to be on Josh's desk by no later than close of business this Friday.
Tuesday finally rolled around. Our introductory meeting with the Peru contingent was scheduled for 2 P.M. in the conference room.
The meeting itself was mostly unremarkable. It was the people there who were worthy of some consideration.
Aaron Peru was just exactly as I'd imagined him. He was tall and rail thin with an angular, hawkish face. Precisely trimmed snow-white hair and piercing ice blue eyes made it unnecessary for him to ever speak in anything but a low, modulated voice. His was such a looming presence he had your full attention just sitting quietly.
Jerrod Peru had clearly inherited his father's looks, the same angular features and the same piercing blue eyes. At what I'd guess to be about 19 years of age, the effect was striking in a very masculine, macho way. Beth DiAngelo once caught my eye while everyone else was paying attention to Aaron and Josh discussing some point. Beth give me a knowing little smirk and a very subtle lift of her eyebrows and then turn a perfectly innocent and very neutral glance in Jerrod's direction. I suppose he was a handsome young "stud", but I got the impression of a little too much "arrogance of class" from him. The Peru fortune was substantial, and you could bet that Jerrod had had the best of everything growing up.
Maybe it was just "reverse snobbery" on my part.
The initial proposals seemed satisfactory and we got Aaron's input for some changes that he'd return to review in three days. And then the meeting broke up.
I was carrying my folders and my rather large easel back to the studio when Jerrod caught up with me in the hall.
"Ms Wright, just a moment."
I stopped and waited for him to catch up, trying to shift the folders under my arm into a more comfortable position without dropping them or the easel in the process.
"I liked your sketches. You're quite a talented artist."
More struggling. "Thank you Mr Peru."
He struck a negligent pose (making no move to help me with the folders or the easel I noticed) and smiled. "Oh please, call me Jerrod." Then he stood there, smirking at me. I guess I was supposed to offer my first name at this point, but there was that smug superiority again. And he certainly wasn't winning any points by offering to help me with the load I was now really struggling with. Oh, to heck with him.
"Uh, was there something you wanted . . . Mr Peru?"
The smirk slipped a bit. "I thought you and I might get to know each other a little better. I think it's important that I know the people who'll be working for me. Don't you agree? I was going to suggest that we have dinner together tonight."
Oh please . . . not this again. I'd been down this road once before and I had no intention of ever going down it again. Maybe I was a little abrupt, but the memories his offer conjured up together with his manner ("working for you"? What a pompous little ass!) . . . it was more than I wanted to deal with.
"Thank you for the offer Jerrod, but I do make it a point not to associate with the children of potential clients. I just don't think it's very professional. Now, if you'll excuse me, these folders are getting a bit heavy."
I didn't give him a chance to respond. I just turned and walked away.
The first hint of trouble came the following day during a meet with Beth DiAngelo to coordinate page layout for one of the Peru ads. We were sitting in my studio and we'd pretty much decided on what we wanted the page to look like and to say. Beth stretched the kinks out of her back and I leaned back in my chair.
"You got any plans for lunch today Beth?"
"No. I'm just going to get a sandwich from that guy who comes around. I should stay and finish up the galleys for the two full-page spreads. And I don't want to get caught out."
"Caught out? What do you mean?"
"Oh, Jerrod Peru made a half-assed pass at me this morning. He kept asking me out to lunch till I finally had to tell him I wasn't going out today because I had so much to do."
"Sheesh! That little tool took a shot at me yesterday after the meeting."
Beth chuckled. "Well, he's industrious, you have to give him that."
"Please. Talk about a self-contained love affair. I bet he's got a mirror in every room back home."
"Why not? He is a hunky little stud."
"And about ten years too young for me . . . and a generation too young for you."
"Bitch!" We shared a giggle and the conversation moved on to something else. Neither Beth nor I were in any danger from Jerrod. Despite his claim he had no real status with his father's company, and therefore no real lever against either of us. Beth had been around enough not to be in the least impressed by his strutting and posturing, and I had the wrong set of chromosomes to be anything but annoyed by him.
"Okay Lisa . . . take these two folders down to Litho and tell them I want the proofs by no later than four. Then take this folder down to Copy. Make sure that Ms. DiAngelo's secretary knows to get them to her today. Got that?"
"Hmm? I'm sorry, Ms. Wright. What did you say?"
"I said . . . oh for Heaven's sake Lisa! What's gotten into you today?"
"Oh man. Im really sorry Ms. Wright. I was . . . " A shy little blush. "I guess I was daydreaming."
"Daydreaming? What's up? Got a hot date tonight?" I grinned, expecting anything other than a nod and a smile.
"Um hmm." Then she developed a dreamy expression and leaned a bit closer. "I'm just dying to tell someone. I was walking down the hall this morning and I met Jerrod Peru coming the other way. He asked me if I wasn't your assistant and I told him I was. We got to talking. And then he asked me out to dinner!"
That sent a little shiver down my spine. I didn't know why. Projecting my own bad memories perhaps?
"Oh really? Did you say yes?"
I got treated to that 'like, duh!' expression that only teenage girls can do justice to. "Are you kidding?"
"Do you think that's a good idea. Uh . . . I mean . . . don't you have classes tomorrow?"
Okay, I'm not a parent. I don't know how to deal with teenagers. Lisa's smile evaporated.
"I'll take these folders right down Ms. Wright." Then she was gone.
Maybe I should be a parent. I apparently had the 'nagging mother' routine down pat.
Things got really dark on the ride home that day.
Josh occasionally gave me a ride home to save me from having to take the bus. We did it when we were staying late and could leave together without a lot of people to notice and wonder if the boss and PJ weren't starting to develop a little something on the side.
We were stuck in traffic and Josh had been snappish the whole trip. I knew he'd been out late last night, showing the Perus around town and buying them dinner. I had to imagine that a night on the town with Aaron Peru was a real ball of fun, and I mentioned that to Josh.
He just muttered something and honked angrily at the car ahead of him.
"I'm sorry, what did you say Josh."
"I said 'I always get a kick out of being a pimp.'"
I swung around in the seat and stared at Josh open-mouthed. "You got a hooker for Aaron Peru?!"
That earned me a derisive snort. "Not hardly. I bought him and his kid dinner and then the old man left for bed at about 9. I got to follow that little creep of a kid around till 2 A.M. I think we went to every strip bar in town. I finally had to pour him into a taxi to get him home. For somebody who's only been legal drinking age for one year, he sure knows how to knock 'em back."
"Did he ever . . . you know . . . ?"
"Get lucky? No. It's not like he couldn't have though. He was throwing enough money around that I think the strippers were actually starting to get passionate. He didn't want any of them though. He wanted me to think that he was too good for that kind of thing. Little preppy creep. But he finally got sloppy drunk enough that he started going on about how he only really liked it when he could . . . "
Josh just stared at the traffic for a while with a disgusted frown on his lips. "That's one sick puppy. I guess it comes from having a dad who's so puritanical."
"He likes virgins . . . okay? Get the picture, bro? He gets a real charge out of being the first one in."
Oh my God.
I didn't know what to do. For some reason, I didn't want to confide my sudden fears in Josh and we spent the rest of the drive home in uncomfortable silence. As soon as I was through the door, I called Beth at home. Somehow, this seemed like a problem to take to another woman. I don't know why I thought that. I was really nonplused by the whole concept. Maybe I'm not so worldly as I'd like to believe. I managed to get the gist of the problem out to her. The line was silent for a long time and then we agreed that we really needed to sit down first thing tomorrow in my office and come up with some kind of plan.
I spent a very uncomfortable night. I didn't know Lisa that well, but I could hardly believe that she was prepared to deal with some . . . thing . . . like Jerrod Peru. And she was my intern. That made it my responsibility.
"God! It's like all those horror stories you used to hear at school. The kind you used to shiver over and giggle about, because you knew it wasn't really real. That boys weren't really that way."
Beth and I had been speaking in hushed tones for a good half-hour and we were no closer to any concrete course of action. I was becoming more and more frustrated and embarrassed. The fact was that when I was in school, the kind of tales I used to swap and giggle about had nothing to do with how wicked boys were. They were about which girl might let you get under her blouse on the first date . . . and which might let you get under her skirt on the second.
"Okay . . . we're agreed that Jerrod is a threat that Lisa needs to be protected from. Now, how do we do it?"
"How the hell should I know? You think I have some kind of contingency plan for situations like this? What if we went to his father?"
"And tell him what? 'Excuse us Mr. Peru, I know we're just some people who you're thinking about hiring to sell fishing rods. But we really think you should know your son's a pervert who's gonna rape one of our interns.'"
"For Christ's sake PJ, I don't know what to do! How often have YOU ever had to deal with this?"
Never. I don't know if I really know how to even think in the right way to come up with a solution.
Or maybe I do.
And that sent a real shiver down my spine.
"Okay. It's simple. Jerrod is leaving town tomorrow afternoon. I can't believe that Lisa would let him . . . " I waved a hand helplessly. " . . . on their first date, unless he really was going to rape her. We'd have heard about it by now if that had happened. Okay, the first date was last night, if she went out to dinner with him. That just gives him tonight and tomorrow to . . . "
"But if he's made plans for tonight with Lisa . . . on the second date. . . he's just charming enough and she's just inexperienced enough . . . "
"I know! Okay. We just make sure that Jerrod has something better to do tonight and tomorrow."
There was a long heavy silence. We both knew just what I was proposing.
Then, very quietly, Beth said "I'll do it."
I had a vision of my first glimpse of the real Beth DiAngelo . . . standing in my office doorway on that terrible day after . . . the desperate young woman who'd sacrificed so much trying to make a life for herself . . . the only one with enough empathy to be there for me when I . . .
"No. Lisa is my intern. She's my responsibility. I'll do it."
"PJ, I should. It's not like I've never . . . "
Beth would never do that to herself again. Not if I could prevent it.
But the question was . . . could I do what I knew I would have to do?
"Ms Wright. Good morning."
I lowered my eyes and offered an embarrassed, contrite smile.
"Okay. I deserve that. Let's start over, can we? I wasn't having the best of days, last Tuesday."
"You have nothing to apologize for Ms. Wright. You were right of course. I really should stick with people my own age."
Grit your teeth and keep that penitent smile in place. "Lisa told me what a wonderful time she had with you last night." (She told me how you were such a wonderful, sweet boy. How you were so shy and tentative. How you'd even hinted that you had never been with a woman. How you'd managed to so fool her that she'd as much as admitted that she'd never been with a man.) "Jerrod. I've made such a mess of things. Please, let me make it up. Is it too late to accept your offer of dinner?"
What a smug smile. "I don't know . . . Pamela . . . I did promise Lisa that I'd take her out to dinner tonight. She's a wonderful girl. Young, like me. She has . . . a lot . . . to offer."
My rational mind just shut off. For the very first time, there really was another person gazing out of Pamela's cornflower blue eyes . . . there really was a Pamela Wright. There's no other explanation for how I could have done what I next did.
Pamela gently brushed her hand against Jerrod's chest. "Lisa is a lovely young woman, I can't deny that. It's only natural that you enjoy her . . . company. And I know I can't offer you that kind of . . . companionship. But that doesn't mean that we can't be friends . . . does it? Jerrod, I'm sure that you and I can still have a wonderful evening. Won't you let me try?"
There was a hint of uncertainty in his smile. "What are you up to Pamela?"
"Up to?" Pamela gazed at him with wide-eyed innocence. "Why should I be up to anything? Anything other than asking for a chance to make up for an unnecessarily rude first meeting with an offer of dinner at my apartment . . . tonight at six."
"I don't know . . . "
"Oh Jerrod . . . surely you wouldn't be so ungallant as to deny a woman her prerogative?"
"The right to admit she's wrong . . . and to change her mind."
On the way home, I stopped off at the large chain drugstore down the street from my apartment. There was one last item that I felt I needed for tonight's great deception. It only took me a minute to find what I wanted on the shelves of the personal hygiene department.
I felt one little stab of embarrassment when I paid for my purchase, but it was all in my own mind. The saleslady at the checkout counter hardly looked twice at the small tube before ringing it up. Was it guilt at what I was intending? Was it shame at the whole deception? I couldn't analyze the source of the emotion, and so I simply pushed it aside.
Until near the very end . . . that was the last trace of shame or embarrassment I felt that night. All else was derision and cold calculation.
And that's what shames me most of all.
It's funny. For the next few hours, memories of my Grandfather's fishing lessons seemed to be at the forefront of my thoughts.
Grandfather's first fishing lesson had always been; "Proper preparation prevents poor performance." I got home a little after three o'clock. That left a good three hours to prepare for Jerrod's arrival. I made a careful sweep of my living room/kitchen to make sure there was nothing overtly male, or worse, nothing uniquely Peter's, in evidence. Satisfied I went into my bedroom and removed all the male clothing from my closet and dresser and dumped it unceremoniously into my studio. In its place I made sure that there were only dresses, skirts and blouses . . . lots of silk and lots of lace. I populated the floor of the closet with every pair of woman's shoes I owned. Next, I made a thorough sweep of the bathroom, again erasing all traces of male occupation. My studio I left alone. If Jerrod wound up in there, it was because he was simply wandering from room to room. Obviously, if it came to that, I would have already failed at my attempted seduction and the state of that room would make little difference.
I finished the camouflage operations at a quarter to four and then made a quick tour. The total effect was neither overtly masculine nor overtly feminine, but rather 'gender neutral'. I pondered several strategies to make the place appear more womanly. I considered then rejected a quick trip to a nearby toy store for a bunch of cute stuffed animals to sprinkle around. Tonight Jerrod was going to be romancing a mature woman. There was little I could do with the time remaining as far as redecorating . . . drapes, furniture . . . paintings on the wall . . . they would all have to do. I'd simply have to make sure that Jerrod paid more attention to me than to this "bare stage" on which I was to perform.
I laid a fire in the fireplace . . . that's always a romantic touch, and then set out a bottle of expensive wine and two glasses. Then I searched through my collection of modern "fusion" jazz for some nicely soft and romantic female vocals, which I put into the CD player.
Four o'clock. Two hours to kill. I went into the bedroom and spent over an hour selecting what I would wear for my evening of passion. Finished and pleased with the effect, I then simply sat on the couch and watched the minute hand slowly click off the minutes.
Grandfather's voice echoed in my head; "There comes the time when you need to stop being squeamish and start baiting hooks."
At five forty-five I found a shoebox of the right dimensions and cut a small hole in one end. I then loaded my camcorder with a three-hour tape, set it on record, put it inside the box and set the box on the top shelf of my closet. I made sure that the audio pickup was unobstructed and that the camera had a good view of the bed, but yet was in a dark enough corner that you'd have to be looking right at the box to spot the trick. Unless I failed miserably, by the time Jerrod got in here he would have other things on his mind than peering at the top shelf of my closet.
Jerrod was prompt, I give him that.
The doorbell rang at precisely six P.M. The gleam in his eyes when I opened the door vindicated my choice of attire. I greeted him looking very soft and feminine in a pale pink silk dress that fell to just below my knees. The neckline was sufficiently scooped to display a good rounded bosom and a nicely deep cleavage yet demure enough to raise doubts about my intentions. Shimmering hose, 3-inch heels and one single strand of pearls completed the ensemble. I'd worked very hard on this first impression. I'd been very careful not give enough clues either way as to whether Jerrod was dealing with a prim and proper lady interested only in polite conversation or a hot little slut biding her time and waiting for the right moment to spread her legs.
Grandfather's second rule of fishing; "Keep the fish guessing and you keep them interested."
"Jerrod. I'm so glad you've come! Please, come in!" (Was I hitting "come" too hard? . . . We'd see.)
He smiled and presented me with a dozen red roses. "Thank you for inviting me Pamela. Here, a little peace offering."
I buried my nose in the flowers and then gave Jerrod the first of the "come hither" glances I'd planned for tonight. I bet it was something. Pamela's deep blue eyes and just-red-enough-to-make-you-notice-them lips competing with the dark crimson and deep jade green of the flowers.
"Oh Jerrod! How lovely! Offering accepted. Please, sit down and I'll get some water for these." He headed for the sofa and I swirled off to the sink, the silken rustle of my dress and the click of my heels on the kitchen tiles making the most enchantingly feminine statement.
"You've a very lovely apartment."
"Thank you. It's small and cozy . . . just big enough for one woman to make a little nest for herself." ("Nest" . . . "procreation" . . . "sex" . . . get it Jerrod?)
"And a fireplace. That's something that lots of new places seem to leave out."
Another silken swirl and I was reclining in a spot on the sofa near enough to him to let him smell my perfume, and yet far enough away to be just out of reach. "Oh yes. I knew the minute I saw that fireplace that this was home. Is there anything better than curling up by the fire in your pajamas and a big fluffy robe on cold winter mornings?" (Got that mental picture Jerrod? Tousled Pamela, a drowsy smile on her lips as she snuggles in a big fleecy robe, curled up on the floor by the fire . . . kittenish and cuddly and just purring at the thought of . . . )
"If there is, I haven't found it."
The conversation lagged, which was just fine with me. The more uncomfortable and off balance Jerrod was, the easier he would be to steer in whichever direction I wanted him to go. I just folded my hands in my lap and smiled shyly down at those two lovely breasts, gently rising and falling with each breath. Jerrod stewed for a minute and then noticed the bottle and glasses that I'd carefully placed for him to spot.
"Oh, wine." He got up and made a big show of studying the label. "A '91 Beaujolais . . . that was an excellent year, you know." Are you really a wine snob Jerrod, or are you just putting on a good show? Which do I believe? At 19, you probably haven't outgrown your fondness for Welch's grape juice yet.
"Goodness, I wouldn't know. I just told the man at the store that I wanted something special for tonight." That got his attention. First clue; she thinks tonight should be special. See if you can build on that Jerrod.
He deftly poured two glasses and then sat back down . . . a little closer this time . . . and handed one of the glasses to me. I took a sip and rewarded him with a deep sigh of pleasure, then delicately licked my lips. How about that Jerrod?
He cleared his throat. "I have to say Pamela . . . I was a little surprised by this afternoon. To be blunt, I didn't think you and I were ever going to . . . get along." (Oh, very nice Jerrod. Just enough hesitation to let the subtext be "ever going to . . . jump in the sack together." One point for you.)
I set the glass down on the end table and in my best "shrinking virgin" voice I murmured; "Jerrod . . . I hope you can forgive me. I know I was abrupt with you at first and I'm sorry for it. I can be very bad that way."
"Bad what way?"
I took his left hand in both of mine, and laid it in my lap. Doesn't that silk feel nice Jerrod? Smooth and soft. Just like the silky soft flesh straining against the neckline of my dress . . . flesh you're dying to touch. Grandfather's third rule: "If you know where the fish are, don't put the lure right on top of them on your first cast. Put it off from them a ways. Let them get a look at it. Let them think about how good that little bit of color is going to taste when it finally comes within reach."
"Please understand. It's difficult for women sometimes. When a man is interested in a woman, he can just tell her. But when we women are . . . attracted . . . to a man, well, we can't just throw ourselves at him, can we? Women have to make themselves interesting." A winsome, pleading smile. "At least older ones do Jerrod. It's a terrible trick we women play on you men. We frown and tease and make you chase us. And sometimes . . . " Oh look at me Jerrod. I'm so desperate for you to want me that I'll confess my deepest secrets. I'm so vulnerable . . . weak and willing . . . just the way you like women. "Sometimes, I enjoy the game a little too much . . . " Too subtle Jerrod? Apparently not. I can see the wheels starting to turn behind those wicked little eyes.
He leaned back adopting a very negligent, very worldly pose. (Or he would have if I hadn't kept that left hand firmly planted between mine on my thigh. He ended up looking rather off balance and awkward. Good.) "I've always thought that a woman should speak her mind . . . that if she wants something, that she should just 'go for it'." So long at you're the thing she wants, right Jerrod? Other than that she should just shut up and make sure she's available. He continued with a negligent little wave of his free right hand. "I think that society makes men and women play way too many games."
Speaking of games, here's a good one Jerrod. With his hand still resting on my thigh, I turned slightly away from him, feigning awkward embarrassment. It was a subtle maneuver, but I pulled it off. His hand, still clasped between mine, slid up my leg just a bit, no more than an inch. But it took the material of my skirt with it, raising the hem just above my knee.
Why Jerrod! You naughty boy! Are you trying to feel me up?! Wasn't it wonderful though; that lovely, liquid interaction between silk and nylon . . . And what's this under the heel of your hand, this little bump? Is it the clasp of a garter supporting one of my stockings? What do you make of that . . . that Pamela is wearing stockings instead of pantyhose? Is that another clue? Do women wear stockings and garter belt to show they're hot and ready? Or does she just not like pantyhose? Poor Jerrod . . . it's another one of those unfair feminine secrets that you can't even ask about, that you have to pretend you haven't noticed . . . that they use to tease and taunt.
One point for me.
My expression was all earnest contrition. "You're mad at me, aren't you? Oh Jerrod . . . please forgive me. I was being a tease . . . Do you hate me for thinking I could make you chase me?"
Jerrod took a sip of wine. "Well, I think I'll just take that as a compliment. It means you're interested."
Nope . . . loss of one point . . . too conceited, you stuck up little . . .
" I . . . you must know I am . . .interested."
"I don't quite know what to think Pamela. What happened to make you stop 'playing'?"
Pick up his hand and press it between mine. Just close enough to the swell of bosom to be tantalizing, and pressed just hard enough to make it impossible to reach them. "When I thought you might actually be serious about Lisa . . . that you might be losing interest in me . . . I got frightened. I realized that if I wanted you, I had to let you know . . . that I . . . I . . ."
So transparent. Jerrod, I can read you like a book. I can see that smug little smile that just appeared on your self-satisfied little face. Your "button" is so obvious. Just confirm for him that he's the center of the universe and Jerrod is yours, body and soul.
Grandfather's Rule Four; "You have to know what the fish want before they want it."
"Pamela . . . you don't have anything to worry about. You know why I'm interested in Lisa . . . the only reason I'm interested in her. She's just a child when you come down to it. Why would I throw a real woman away for a child?"
You sick bastard. Time to set the hook and reel you in.
Bring his hand to your lips and kiss it, then peer over it into his eyes. "Oh Jerrod, I knew it was really me you were interested in. I knew it!" Give him a little reward for being so easily led, press his hand against that nice soft swell of fake tit. "I can't . . . " Breathless. " Jerrod, I can't pretend any more. I want you. That's why I invited you over tonight. I can't wait any longer. I want you so badly!"
A little sheen of sweat on your forehead Jerrod? Starting to feel the heat? I've only just struck the match little boy . . .
"Pamela . . . I . . . "
Press his own hand, still in yours, against his lips. Stand. Tug against that hand, get him on his feet, get him moving rather than thinking. Just like sleep walking, isn't it Jerrod? Can't believe it's this easy? That thought wouldn't enter your little mind would it? It's always easy with girls, isn't it Jerrod? Easy, innocent little girls . . . blinded by power and money . . . too young and inexperienced not to be fooled.
Bedroom just ahead Jerrod. Here, have a seat on the bed while Pamela does her thing. Soft hands exploring the front of your shirt . . . insinuating themselves inside your jacket then sliding it right off your body . . . warm, hungry lips pressed against yours so you don't think too hard about what's going on. Now your hands . . . guided over a slender waist . . . up sleek sides and onto those full, soft (plastic!) breasts . . . feel the nipples pressing against the silk?
Now watch . . . your hands returned to you and Pamela's own hands exploring her curves . . . touching her face . . . sliding through that golden hair . . . eyes closed in anticipation . . . another urgent kiss just to make sure your mind is staying where it belongs. Then a deft little flick of one hand and the zipper of her dress is undone. A murmur of passion and a whisper of silk and the dress is in a heap at her feet.
See what a treat I have for you? Shimmering pink satin basque that pinches my waist and supports my breasts . . . but doesnt cover them. Garter straps now revealed . . .attached to the dark lacy band atop those shimmering stockings that caress my long slender legs . . .
Best of all . . . no panties to interfere with your appreciation of my golden sex.
Now, hurry! Oh hurry Jerrod! No time to think! Tear that shirt off! Rip off those pants. Look comical and desperate for the camera Jerrod! Let Lisa see you as you really are; a panting little animal, lost in sweaty desire. Let me press you down on to the bed and straddle you. Here, put your hands against my breasts again while I moan deep in my throat . . . feel what you think is soft flesh and rock hard nipple (and I know is a just a cunning lure . . . a tantalizing bit of color that draws you in . . . makes you throw caution and reason to the wind.)
Now . . . make it all worth while . . .
"Jerrod . . . tell me again . . . tell me why you wanted Lisa. The only reason why."
"I . . . "
"Oh Jerrod . . . it's so hot! It's so dirty! Tell me! Say the words!"
"I want her cherry. I love to . . . huhh . . . take her cherry. To take anyone's . . . uhh."
An erotically feminine sound, part whimper, part growl rewards that admission. Pamela lowers herself against you . . . sliding up your body . . . the tips of her nipples brushing you chest. And then . . . finally . . . pressing against you . . . engulfing you . . . what you want . . . what your poor limited little pig's mind expects . . .
. . . what I know just cunningly fashioned plastic . . . and four drops from the little tube of "intimate feminine moisturizer" purchased this afternoon at the large chain drug store just down the road
. . . purchased for $7.95 and the last measure of my own self-respect in this whole affair.
The next two hours are pure theatre.
Every caress . . .
Every kiss . . .
Every whimper . . . every sigh . . .
Every thrust of my hips . . .
All contrived . . . manufactured . . . coldly planned and executed . . . staged to trap and deceive you Jerrod.
All . . . all . . . except for the occasional ragged breath and the occasional tremble . . . those were terribly real.
Believe that they too are part of the moment, Jerrod. I won't tell you that they aren't the product of passion . . .
. . . but revulsion.
By eight o'clock, Jerrod's motions were becoming less urgent, more languorous. At about eight thirty, he finally rolled off the top of me, and curled up at my side. Almost immediately, his breathing became deeper and slower. Right on cue, at eight forty five, a soft click from the direction of the closet announced that the camcorder had reached the end of the tape and shut itself off. Jerrod's breathing remained regular. He hadn't heard the noise. He was drifting off into a pleasantly sated sleep.
I lay there for another hour, until nine forty five, waiting for his breathing to move from deep breathing, through the first soft snorts, to the deep regular snores I was waiting for. I carefully crawled out from under the covers and waited for a moment to ensure that my departure hadn't disturbed him.
The rhythm of his snores remained constant.
I padded softly to the open closet and removed a dressing robe. Then gathering up the discarded dress, I headed for the bathroom, quietly closing the bedroom door behind myself.
In the bathroom, I removed the stockings and the basque and tossed them, together with the silk dress, into the laundry hamper. Tomorrow they would all go in the trash. They had served their purpose and I no longer wanted them around . . .
. . . to remind me.
With the robe wrapped tightly around me, I went into the kitchen and very quietly made myself a cup of tea. Then I curled up on the sofa for the remainder of the night. I had a decision to make, a choice of one of two courses of action. The first question became; was I willing to pursue the more difficult course? Was I able?
I sat and examined my thoughts.
At first, I expected some wave of emotion to engulf and overwhelm me . . . shame . . . embarrassment . . .
But nothing came. I simply sat there in the darkness, the steam from the cup of tea curling around my face. This surprised me, and for the first time since I'd embarked on the deception,. I looked deep inside myself, searching for my true feelings.
Shame. That was my first expectation. When Kevin Sprague had raped me, the shame had been overwhelming . . . crippling. Shouldn't tonight have been even worse? Tawdry, animal sex . . . the mere use of a body (albeit an artificial one) to perpetrate a lie. . . actions that I had initiated.
No. That I was the initiator actually seemed to remove the shame from the act. I had been in control, leading Jerrod where ever I wanted, helpless in his lust. My will directed, my choices controlled. In fact, if my performance now engendered any emotion, it was a small perverse pleasure at my unexpected acting skill. True, I had been uncomfortable, deeply uncomfortable during the actual act. I was sickened, and repulsed by Jerrod's groping, gasping use of my assumed gender, but that was not the same as shame.
I could find no shame within me.
Embarrassment then . . . the guilty realization of the horrible lie I'd perpetrated.
Perhaps, in a small measure I felt a pang of embarrassment and guilt, but it wasn't the crushing, soul-searing weight I'd somehow expected. It was rather the mild twinge that came from getting caught stealing cookies, or being discovered in a little fib. And the feeling quickly passed.
Jerrod had deserved no better than he'd gotten from me. He was the true villain, the original deceiver. His own flawed character and immature lust had made the seduction possible. And more; if my actions had been censurable, my motives were undeniably noble.
Did two wrongs, in this case, make a right?
Here in the darkness, alone with my conscience, I could truly tell myself that they did.
So, my mind was clear. That left me with the decision.
What did I do from here?
I could simply stop. In truth, I could have stopped when the words of Jerrod's sick ambitions toward Lisa left his lips. I could have stood, tossed him his pants and told him to get out. At that point, I had everything I needed to protect Lisa. I had the tape. What woman with even the smallest shred of dignity could watch that tape, hear those words, and not reject Jerrod utterly? True, if I had simply dropped the deception at that point, the ensuing scene with Jerrod would have been ugly and embarrassing. But probably no more demeaning and uncomfortable than spending the next two hours manufacturing moans of ecstasy while Jerrod bucked and strained, first beneath then atop me.
Then why do it, if I'd already won the game?
I continued the farce because in maintaining it, I saw a way to spare Lisa a small measure of the pain that was inevitably coming. Put yourself in her place. She is young, inexperienced. She believes that a dashing, rich young man has taken a passionate interest in her. She is giddy with joy at finally being recognized and appreciated as the desirable woman she so desperately wants to be. Who could blame her? Then someone calls her into the office one morning and shows her a tape of her presumed lover, passionately wrestling with another woman and admitting that his only interest in Lisa is his desire to steal from her a very intimate and precious thing.
If I had the power to perhaps soften that blow, if I could somehow arrange it so Lisa never had to see that tape at all . . . could I live with myself if I didn't make every effort to do so?
A little after midnight my mind was finally resolved. What I would do next would probably be as unpleasant as what I had just done, but I had survived that in tact. I would survive this. And I had to try.
Jerrod slowly came to wakefulness. At first, he couldn't remember where he was. Then there was a stirring in the bed beside him and a soft, warm body curled against his flank. Silken lips brush his cheek and there is a soft, feline purring in his ear.
"Good morning sleepy head."
"What . . . Pamela . . . oh . . . "
A girlish giggle and long delicate fingers traces the shape of his breast. " 'Oh' indeed. Poor thing, did I wear you out? I hope not."
"What time is it?"
The warm soft curves press tighter, and one satiny leg slides over the top of his. "Who cares? We can do what ever we want. We don't have to pay attention to the clock."
"I've got to get up . . . got to get going."
Eager hands pluck at him, sensuous legs try to enfold him. "No Jerrod . . . stay . . . stay here with me. I want you."
He begins to fumble with his pants. "So I gather, and I'd love to oblige you, but the morning is passing and I have places to be today."
She lays there, the sheets gathered against the swell of her bosom and affirms her still smoldering need with a sly, seductive smile. "Where would you rather be than right here?" One arm unfolds from her breast and she reaches out a languorous hand. "Come back to bed." A whimper. "I need you."
He finishes buckling his pants and grins. "You're insatiable! I'm tempted, but Father and I leave tomorrow, and I have things to attend to before then."
She sits up, the sheets now pressed protectively against her as her face darkens. "You're going to her, aren't you? You're going to that child . . .when you could have me instead. Jerrod, forget about her. I can give you things that she never dreamed of . . . things that you never dreamed of." Her frown dissolves, and again she reaches out a hand, this time in supplication. "Don't go. Please, I'll do anything for you, be anything you want."
He flashes his teeth in a wicked grin of dismissal and derision. "Anything but a virgin, right Pamela?"
She hugs the sheets against her as the first of the tears begin to course down her cheeks. "Oh Jerrod . . . how could you? I gave you everything that I had to give, and now that you have it you're just going to throw me away?" Her breath starts to break into soft, anguished sobs. "What kind of a man are you? Please . . . please stay. Please don't do this to me."
He shrugs into his jacket, still smiling at her. "Sorry cherie' . . . that's love I guess. But cheer up, I'm sure we'll be seeing lots more of each other once you get our contract."
A moment later the front door closes and he's gone.
I had miscalculated. I thought I had three snares left to play; a promise of more sex, an invocation of Jerrod's pride, and finally, failing either of those, an appeal to his conscience. Any one of the three would have worked against Peter . . . should have worked against any normal man.
And that was the miscalculation; Jerrod was not a normal man.
Sex for him was a possession, something to collect. He had "had" Pamela already. While the promised sex might have made him stop and consider for a moment, it paled against the conquest of the as-yet unattained Lisa.
Pride was a strong motivator for him, but again, Pamela was subjugated territory. Her pleas only confirmed that he possessed her. He didn't need to remain with her to savor his conquest.
Conscience? What was I thinking? Jerrod had none.
And I had nothing left to lure him into spending the day and the night with me.
I sat in bed for several moments wiping away the (surprisingly easy to counterfeit) tears, then quickly rose and began getting ready for work. Twenty minutes later, dressed and ready, I paused to remove the tape from the camcorder and put it in my purse. So be it. Last night's contest had gone to me. Jerrod had won this morning's round.
But I would win the game.
With a small pang I realized that Lisa would be the real looser of the contest. I could no longer prevent that, I could only minimize the injury.
I swept past Carl, my secretary, just after nine o'clock.
"Get Beth for me Carl."
A moment later the intercom on my desk buzzed. "Ms. DiAngelo on line six." "Thank you Carl. Hold all my other calls please."
I picked up the phone. "We need to talk."
There was a slight pause, then; "I'll be right up."
A moment later Beth was closing my studio door behind her. I just nodded to the cassette lying on my desk. Beth stared at it for a moment, then inserted it into the VCR that I kept on the credenza for reviewing works in progress. It took a moment to rewind the tape, then she pressed play and sat down in the chair across from me.
After ten minutes, I could stand no more, and I shut the VCR off. Beth had seen everything she needed . . . she'd heard Jerrod's twisted admission.
There was a long silence, then she shook her head. "Part of me didn't want to believe it. He's such a handsome young . . . What do we do now?"
"There's only one thing to do. We show Lisa the tape."
"It'll tear her apart."
"Don't you think I don't know that? Which is better, that she find out the truth while there's still time, or that she find out after he's . . . he's . . . "
Beth nods and just looks at her hands.
I reached over and punched my intercom. "Carl . . .find Lisa and tell her I want to see her right now."
"Okay Ms. Wright."
It takes an agonizing ten minutes, but then there's a soft tapping at my door and Lisa is peering in. "You wanted to see me Ms. Wright? Hello Ms. DiAngelo."
"Yes Lisa. Come in and close the door behind you."
Beth stood and offered Lisa her chair . . .the chair facing the VCR. Lisa sat down looking uncertain and a bit frightened. "Have I done something wrong?"
"No Lisa, you haven't done anything wrong . . . not at all. I . . . " Something caught in my throat and I could only look at Beth.
"Lisa, there's no easy way to do this. I'm sorry. But you have to know." Beth rewound the tape and pressed play.
The tape hissed through the machine and the images appeared . . . the voices rehearsed their lines. Lisa just sat . . . immobile . . . quietly watching. Again, after a few minutes I could stand it no longer and I stopped the machine.
Another endless silence.
Then Lisa spoke, very quietly, in an inflectionless voice. "Oh . . . oh, I see."
"Lisa . . . I'm so sorry . . . that you had to find out this way. You have to believe . . . "
She cut me off. "Was there anything else Ms. Wright?"
"Lisa . . . Please try to understand . . . "
"Understand? Understand what? That Im just a stupid little girl who believed a lie . . . believed that Jerrod actually saw something in me? Understand that I made a good little joke for you and Jerrod to laugh over while you . . . "
Beth tried to lay a hand on Lisa's shoulder, but Lisa shrugged it off. "Was there anything else? Or did you want to run the tape again and have a good laugh for yourselves while I was here to appreciate the joke?"
"Lisa . . . you can't believe that we'd laugh at . . . "
Then she was sobbing and stumbling for the door. "LEAVE ME ALONE!" The door slammed, and she was gone. I jumped up to try and follow her, but Beth blocked me. "No, let her go. You've done everything you can."
"But I can't just let her . . . "
"Yes you can. PJ . . . please . . . she doesn't want to talk to you right now."
"What do you mean? I've just . . . " I waved my hand at the VCR.
"Yeah. Let it go. Let me try and talk to her in a few minutes."
I suddenly realized how Lisa must see me right now, what she must think of me.
And the shame finally came crashing down.
The remainder of the morning was a blur. I was lost in a blue funk. Nothing . . .it was all for nothing. I hadn't saved Lisa from anything. I'd only traded one shame for another. I'd lowered myself to Jerrod's level. . . I'd played his game by his rules and he'd won.
I wasn't really paying attention when Carl buzzed me with a reminder of my 11 o'clock conference. By rote, I wandered out of the office and down the hall to the conference room.
Lisa's angry voice jarred me back to the present.
"You bastard! Leave me alone! I never want to see you again!"
I looked up, desperate to offer an explanation . . .
And saw Lisa struggling in Jerrod's arms.
"What's wrong? Sweetheart . . . what's the matter?"
Lisa batted his arms away and then slapped him, hard, across the face. "YOU SON OF A BITCH" Lisa stabbed a finger at me. "Go to your whore! She told me everything. EVERYTHING! Don't ever speak to me or come near me again! Damn you! DAMN YOU BOTH!" Then she was free of Jerrod and fleeing for the elevator which closed behind her, right in Jerrod's face.
For a moment he stood staring at the elevator doors, then he whirled on me. "You . . . you did this." A horrified look of realization crossed his face. "It was a set-up! You did it all just to ruin it with Lisa. YOU SET ME UP YOU FILTHY BITCH!"
I was too empty to care. "That's right Sonny Jim . . . and you fell for it, hook, line and sinker." I turned to go and suddenly he was on me, grabbing my shoulder, grabbing the collar of my blouse. "NOBODY DOES THAT TO ME! NOBODY MAKES ME LOOK LIKE A FOOL!"
And another emotion descended on me . . . as cold and clear as any emotion I've ever felt. The emotion that I suddenly realized was there all along, underlying everything I'd done . . .
. . . pure, crystalline rage . . .
My roundhouse right caught Jerrod squarely on the button of his chin and he took two staggered steps backwards then collapsed hard on his butt. His hand had remained clawed on my collar, and when he went backwards, my blouse tore down to the waistband of my skirt, but I was beyond noticing. I'd never felt such unreasoning anger before . . . I'd never thrown a punch with the desire to hurt . . . to break . . .
"GET UP YOU LITTLE CHICKEN SHIT! Stand up and fight! You're never going to ruin another little girl again. STAND UP YOU LITTLE RAT FUCK BASTARD!"
The voice was quiet and commanding, it came from behind me and it was probably the one thing that could have penetrated my rage.
Jerrod's father stood in the open doorway of the conference room, Josh peering dumbfounded over his shoulder.
We remained that way for what seemed like years . . . Mr Peru and Josh in the doorway . . . Jerrod sniveling on the floor . . . me standing astride him, fists balled and blouse hanging in tatters around my waist. Then the spell broke and I stepped back, suddenly seized with the desire to gather up my ruined blouse and cover the clunky-simple bra that had been the only one I'd wanted to wear today.
Jerrod whimpered and pointed a trembling hand at me. "She's crazy! She attacked me for no reason! I was just . . . "
His father fixed him with a cold, empty stare and he stuttered to a stop.
"Be still Jerrod. I heard everything. What am I to do with you? The first time, I couldn't believe it . . . didn't want to believe it. The second time, I thought that it was something you'd outgrow . . . I was so embarrassed by it that I tried to rationalize it, tried to wish it away. But now . . . I see it won't go away. I've been too lenient with you Jerrod. I've trusted you and let you have your way."
"No more. I've been remiss for too long. You're going to learn discipline Jerrod. You're going to start learning now. No matter what it takes, it's time you grew up and became a man."
Tears started to leak out of the corner of Jerrod's eyes. "Daddy . . . I . . . "
But his father wouldn't even look at him. He just fixed me with a cold stare as I stood there, fumbling with my blouse, then he turned on his heel and strode for the elevator. Jerrod scrambled to follow and my last sight was of him cowering before the looming presence of his father as the doors swept closed.
No victory . . . only shame and hurt and deceit.
I was curled up on the couch. The sun had set, night was falling. Pamela was hanging on the shower rod, dripping quietly in the bathroom tub. I was alone, surrounded by my thoughts when the key turned in the front door and Josh walked in.
"Leave me alone Josh."
He ignored me and flopped down in the overstuffed chair across from the sofa. He sat there for a while, just looking at me. Then he leaned forward and picked up the bottle of wine that had been sitting there since last night.
"Jeeze PJ . . . a '91 Beaujolais? Maybe you should stick to diet soda."
"If you've come to scold me for costing us the Peru account, get on with it then get out."
Josh set the bottle back down and then leaned back in the chair. "I'm not why I'm here."
"I thought you might like to hear all that went on after you left the office this morning."
I just closed my eyes and turned my head away.
"You missed some really interesting stuff. Peru and his little troglodyte kid hadn't been gone a hour when we got a call."
"And got told, 'don't call us, we'll call you', right?"
"I suspect that was the purpose alright, but I beat them to the punch and told them we wouldn't be interested in handling their account."
I turned and peered at Josh. Was this my brother; the hustler . . . actually turning down a lucrative account on a matter of principle? "You turned them down? Why?"
He shrugged, and looked down at his lap. "I figured between Kevin Sprague and Giancarlo of Venice, we have enough sex maniacs in our client base." He dropped the light tone. "Despite what you think PJ, I won't do anything, put up with anyone, for a buck. I've learned a few lessons along the way."
Maybe there was one small victory to salve my conscience. Maybe my brother was growing into the good man I always wanted to believe he was.
"Anyway . . . as I say . . you missed some really interesting stuff. First our new intern packs all her things and sobs off into the sunset, then Beth DiAngelo has some kind of psychotic episode in my office."
"Lisa's gone?" What else did I expect? "And Beth? What did she want?"
"I think she wanted to skin me and hang the pelt from the flagpole. She thought you were gone because I'd fired you. She yelled at me for a good half hour . . . she pounded on my desk and told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn't get you back, I could go looking for a new copywriter too."
"Beth threatened to quit?"
"Bet your ass she did. Then she told me the whole story about you and Jerrod . . . and Lisa."
My head sunk on my chest. "Oh God. What a story, huh? Sex and lies and videotape . . . and a shitty ending. Ruined women who are either victims or sex toys and men who have never heard of honor and have the morals of a three peckered goat."
There was the longest silence. When I glanced over at Josh, he was looking directly into my eyes . . . something he rarely did. "Maybe it isn't a fairy tale 'and they all lived happily ever after' ending. But it's a good ending Peter."
"Good? Where do you see any good in any of this?"
Again Josh shrugged and lowered his gaze. "Lisa was hurt. But she could have been hurt a lot worse. 'Women as victims'? You wouldn't have thought so if you saw Beth tear-assing around my office demanding justice . . . with enough courage of conviction to throw away a career to get it. 'Men without morals' . . . I don't know about that either. I know of one man at least who'd debase himself, who'd grit his teeth and do things that I'd never have the . . . strength . . . to even consider. All for honor . . . a woman's honor . . . a woman he hardly knows."
He stood up, and headed for the door, but he paused for a moment and turned back to me. "Not all people are saints, or perfect, or always do the right or best thing . . . hell PJ . . . most of us just stumble along from day to day. You do your best, and you try your hardest . . and you hope things work out. And sometimes, along the way, you get to see things that renew your faith . . . that make you willing to keep on trying.
That's what I came by to say.
I'll see you down at the office tomorrow."
I sat for a long time, watching the shadows move across the wall.
After a while, I reached for the phone and began to dial the number to Lisa's apartment. Before I finished dialing, I set the phone back down.
A glance at the clock told me that in just a little less than an hour, the chemical that altered my voice into Pamela's would wear off. I'd wait till then to place the call to Lisa's apartment.
The game was over. No more strategies . . . or lies or deceptions. Now there was only the truth.
The whole truth.
There was one more round. A hard, painful . . . revealing round. I'd try to make it right. I might fail. But I'd try.
I'd try to help Lisa understand. And maybe, in doing so, I'd understand too.
I owed both of us that much.