California Girls

“This isn’t what it looks like.”

It wasn’t the right thing to say, or even that true, really, but John couldn’t think of anything else and that’s what they seemed to say on TV, so he said it anyway.  Michelle stared, open-mouthed, at the scene in the bedroom before her: piles of clothes scattered on the floor, lavender-scented candles smoldering on the windowsill, three buxom blondes in various states of undress, and John, naked, in the middle of the rumpled red satin sheets of the queen-sized bed, holding what appeared to be some sort of device halfway between a small broomstick and a large eggbeater.

“I can… explain?”  John said slowly, grasping at clichés like a middle school lit mag on deadline night.  But Michelle was already turning around and heading out the door.

“Babe, no, wait, I—shit, babe—”  John tumbled out of bed, grabbed a pair of jeans out of the pile to his left, and half ran, half fell through the bedroom door as he tried to follow Michelle and put on his pants at the same time.

“Babe.”  He found her sitting at the breakfast table, bathed in the orange evening light that poured through the bay window and staring into the dancing motes of dust that hung there like dirty stars.  “Babe, what’s wrong?”  John pulled a chair up to the table, mustered a look of genuine concern, and sat down.

She shot him a Gorgon of a glance.  “ ‘What’s wrong?’  I don’t know, John, maybe the fact that you made me breakfast in bed this morning, talked about plans for our date night, and then I come back from work to find this in my bedroom.”

“I’m a sex advice columnist, babe.  What part of that says ‘monogamous relationship’ to you?”

“But in my house?”

For the first time today, John looked sheepish.  “My bedroom’s still flooded.  From last week, when that Swedish model, you know—”

“You’re a whore.”

For a split second, John was silent.  Then years of telling people what he did for a living kicked in and the glib confidence that made John Wilson, in his own mind, a household name in the greater Los Angeles area returned.

“I prefer the term ‘freedom lover.’  Coined it in volume sixteen.”

“That sounds like the name of an RV with a bald fucking eagle painted on the side.  And I know that face—that’s the face you make when you’re telling people how goddamn ‘important’ you are.  You write a smut column for the Burbank Daily, John.”  Michelle watched his shoulders slump, almost as fast as the Daily’s circulation numbers had this quarter.

“Get out of my house.”

John nodded.  “Yeah.”  His voice felt like gravel in his throat.  “Yeah, Michelle.  Okay.”  He pushed his chair away from the table and stood up, but Michelle stayed seated, sunlight writhing in her dark brown eyes like snakes.  John shuffled down the hallway, stopping at the door to Michelle’s bedroom.  Three much more clothed blondes were huddled in the corner, whispering.

“Get the hell out of here,” he said.  The tallest blonde opened her mouth, but John cut her off.  “I’ll make sure that Mikey gets his money.  Just go.”

And with that, they were gone, effervescing out of the front door of the house and leaving nothing but the smell of lavender and a faint hint of glitter in the carpet.  John grabbed the rest of his clothes and followed, plodding, each footfall sinking heavily into the manicured lawn.  He could still see Michelle in the bay window, the beautiful goddamn bay window in her beautiful house in her beautiful suburb; could still see her as he stuck his key into the door of his rusty car and collapsed into his polyester seats pockmarked with cigar ash burns.  An issue of the Burbank Daily from last month sat on his passenger seat, the Wilson byline and “Good Vibrations” title clearly visible.

John crumpled the newspaper into a ball, muscled his manual window down, and tossed it out into the street before turning the key in the ignition and driving away with a throaty roar, a belch of black exhaust, and a leaden weight in his chest where Michelle had been that morning.

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