She stepped out into the cold night air.
Immediately, the sounds of the city assaulted her. The sounds were largely blocked out in the confines of her fifth-floor apartment, which made it all the more jarring every time she left it. She was used to it by now, but it had been a daily shock when she first moved here from her small country town. Checking her watch, she hailed a passing taxi. She didn’t want to be late.
She used the ride to compose herself. This was a special night after all, if not for the reasons she’d imagined. The driver tried chatting her up, but she ignored him. She was used to men trying to chat her up, usually for the basest of reasons. Eventually he gave up. The same couldn’t be said for the billboard and shop lights – another thing she’d never be quite used to.
40 minutes later they pulled up in front of a signboard that chose to forego flashy lights. It needed none – the name was significant enough. Hotel Marriott. She paid the driver and entered.
The concierge couldn’t quite hide a leer from showing through his formal expression. She ignored it. It was, after all, expected. Even desired. He wasn’t trying to be discreet, after all, which was why he’d asked her to wear her most revealing evening gown.
She well remembered the first – and only – time she’d worn it. She’d been trying to win the affections of a boy and decided that prom night was the time to strike. Securing the date was easy – they were childhood friends, after all. Changing how he saw her, however, proved a task beyond even the capacities of her buxom display. Still, he’d remembered it…
He’d been put up in the penthouse suite. Of course. His employers had to impress upon everyone just how famous he was. He certainly wasn’t paying for any of this, although he could with but a fraction of the fees he charged. She checked her watch again. Right on time. How…’professional’ of her. In truth, she was nervous.
He opened the door with that familiar smile of his. It was the same smile on the boards downstairs advertising his session. A ‘winning’ smile, it had been called by women’s’ magazines. Just like everything else about his looks – the strong jaw, wide shoulders and perfectly even, pearly white teeth. Women flocked to his side, and for good reason. He looked like a Greek god, as if destined from birth for greatness. Well, he certainly lived up to it – he’d founded two wildly successful companies, written 2 similarly successful books and was now called on to give advice to an army of followers who seemed to think that leadership was a function of how many inspiring talks one attended.
She remembered a different smile, a warmer smile, betraying the shyness of its owner. She hadn’t seen that smile in a long time. She wondered if he’d forgotten how to make it.
He asked after her, tried to make conversation. Her responses were stilted. She had passed nervousness and moved on to anxiety by this point. She’d never imagined this day being like this…and she’d imagined it often enough. He gave up after a while. There was only so far friendship could go in times like this. He knew there was no danger. She had agreed to this. They would paper over the awkwardness later. Gently, he motioned her…to the bedroom.
She suppressed a gasp on entering – ropes, cuffs, vibrators and, as if to mock the other items, flower petals everywhere. In the corner, she even spied a cat-o-nine-tails. She had known, of course. He had gone to great lengths to explain why it was necessary. But it was still a shock to actually see it. Forcibly composing herself, she undressed.
Turning around, she saw that he had undressed too. She allowed herself to look. There was no point not doing so, given what they were about to undertake. He was everything she’d hoped for. She didn’t quite know how she should feel about that – right now she was just a nervous wreck. He wasn’t smiling anymore either.
He set the camera on the wardrobe and closed the door. She got to work.
Three hours later, she left. She didn’t quite know what to feel, but she would deal with that later. Right now, she knew what to expect, and what she had to do. Tomorrow their film would find its way into the hands of a particularly sleazy tabloid reporter. And then they would both rocket to infamy.
His life would be ruined. His marriage would end, his contracts terminated, his books quickly taken off the shelves. He would be branded another charlatan creep, the leadership guru who was secretly a serial philanderer of the worst sort – pointless to listen to, unworthy of understanding.
But he would be free…
Free to backpack across mountains rather than fly over them. Free to gaze at the stars rather than having to be one. Free to talk at length on marine biology and be blind to his audiences’ yawns. Free to not wash his clothes for weeks.
Free to lose his temper when angry. Or cry when upset. Free to smile like he used to.
Free to be himself.
Free, perhaps even, to be with her…