by Krista Diamond
On her first week in Las Vegas, Clare wore a red bikini to an interview for a poolside cocktailing job. She landed the position immediately. It didn’t matter that the bikini was five years old and from the discount rack; her body looked expensive.
She shifted from the pool job to a cocktail gig in a high-limit poker room, and then quit when she found something better. Each day she retreated back to the terrace of her high-rise apartment where she’d survey the city, squinting as if she could see the flood channels that ran like veins under the streets.
Clare had fallen in with a crowd of club promoters and bartenders and fine dining servers early on—Jessica, Tyler, Charlotte and Brian. They’d seen her alone on a Wednesday night at Intrigue and invited her to their booth, mostly because another pretty face would mean more free drinks.
Her mother had always told her that it was important to have friends.
“Your teacher says you don’t play with anyone at recess,” she’d said when Clare was in first grade. “She called you a lone wolf.”
Lone wolf. At six she’d pictured herself as a wolf with blonde hair, weaving through a foggy forest. Sometimes the image still came to mind.
She decided to make friends anyway, because this new city felt like the kind of place where she could try as many strange things as she wanted. Plus the doormen at clubs often regarded her with skepticism when she arrived alone and she didn’t like that. These friends were a vampiric group who prowled Las Vegas Boulevard at night and slept through the daylight hours. Twenty-somethings who made more money than their parents and somehow still lived above their means. They all had apartments in sleek high-rise buildings, but none of them had the patience to shop for furniture, dish towels, pots and pans. They’d held onto their college dorm habits, subsisting on takeout and sleeping on mattresses without bed frames.
Clare’s one-bedroom inside a gilded tower called Sky was immaculate, cool and white. She washed her dresses by hand and hung them to dry on the railing of her balcony. She liked the way the sequins and bright colors looked, drying in the sun high above the hot streets.
On a Wednesday afternoon, her mother called and asked, “Are you still liking it?”
“I love the city,” Clare said. She stood in her lavender silk robe on her balcony and counted the shiny limousines that passed by below.
“Well,” her mother said, “Don’t fall into the trap.”
“What trap? Happiness?”
“No. The one where you wait tables forever instead of using your college degree.”
“I’m not waiting tables anymore,” Clare said.
“You should find a nice boy,” her mother said. “I was married when I was your age.”
And then her phone beeped with a call from Charlotte or Jessica or Tyler or Brian (hopefully Brian), probably wondering where she was going that night and if they could meet her there.
“Mom,” she said, “I’m going to have to let you go.”
She switched over to the other line—it was Charlotte, asking her if they should meet for happy hour before the club. Clare half-listened while mentally going through her wardrobe. Had she worn the red dress that week? Could she pair the satin Jimmy Choos with the gold skirt?
“Uh-huh,” she said.
No, the leopard print dress. Or the purple one with the velvet. Yes, that was the one.
Wednesday night started with martinis at STK, followed by oysters and hamachi at Momofuku, then after-dinner cocktails at Chandelier Bar. Clare drank club soda. She liked to be in control.
Brian sat at the head of the table, a thousand miles from Clare, glancing at her from beneath his inscrutable brow. She had never had a boyfriend, but whenever she pictured what he would look like she saw Brian’s face. She imagined sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with him at some noodle shop, holding hands on the way to movies, or wherever it was couples went.
Clare only knew how to fuck, how to climb on top of someone in the back of a limo at 4 a.m., one palm pressed against the ceiling of the car, the other pressed against the window as they drove down Las Vegas Boulevard past the pink lights of the Flamingo, the glowing golden Eiffel Tower and the advertisements that read Girls direct to you!
“Harder,” she’d say to whoever it was, because that was what they all liked. It was what she liked too.
But she couldn’t imagine saying that to Brian. He was pale with dark features and the body of a runner. He caught her studying him and smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners. This was the kind of man she should be with. Clare wanted him, she thought, or at least she was supposed to want him.
“What are you looking at?” he asked, grinning. He gave her a little kick from under the table. He wasn’t as far away as she’d thought.
She pictured him in her bed, soft and slow, his voice in the dark asking, “Is this okay?”
After the restaurant, the limo deposited the group outside of the nightclub. A line of girls in stilettos and nearly identical sparkly dresses slid out of cars.
The bottle service was comped as usual. Clare felt emboldened in the dark. She climbed onto their table, dancing in the slow blue light, running her hands over her body, tracing her tongue across her lips. But when she looked down at Brian, his eyes weren’t on her.
“Fine,” she said, to herself, to him—not that it mattered, because the music was too loud for anyone to hear her voice. She climbed over the crushed velvet booth onto the neighboring table.
“What are you doing?” Jessica called.
She moved her hips, her shoulders in slow motion for them, arching her back.
The boys in the booth cheered, and Clare climbed into the lap of the handsomest one. He had the clean-shaven face of a college athlete.
“We’re going to an after-hours club after this,” he yelled over the music. “Do you want to come?”
Thirty seconds later they were kissing. Sloppy, open-mouthed kisses, their tongues pressing against each others.
“There she goes again, leaving with some guy,” she heard someone from her table say, but she was already walking away.
Clare walked down the Strip with the group of boys. The sky was fading from deep blue to soft purple, and the neon lights were turning off one by one. These were the moments when she truly loved the city, when it was settling into itself like an animal turning in circles before bedding down.
“Thank god for after-hours clubs,” she said, as they arrived at the entrance. The nightclub had opened at 4 a.m. and it would stay open until 9 a.m.
The boy’s friends left at 6 a.m., saying something about 99-cent prime rib 24-hours a day. After they were gone, she pulled the boy into a bathroom stall.
He kissed her neck. “Should we go back to my…?”
“No need for that,” she said, unzipping his pants.
When they were finished, she left the dark nightclub and stepped into the piercing wall of sun.
Her phone rang.
“Come meet us for breakfast,” Jessica said. “I know you’re still up, you little monster.”
The diner was a mile away, but Clare decided to walk. Las Vegas in the morning felt illicit and strange, like walking in on the rehearsal of a play before the performance. The air was clean and soft and the buildings seemed faded and blank. She made her way past the kiosks staffed by bored looking girls chewing gum, past the open doors of casinos and past the crowds of families on vacation, all clad in sweatshirts that said Las Vegas in cursive. The mothers glared at her, and she wondered if her own mother would scowl at her too, or if she’d even recognize her at all.
Thursday was a few bottles of wine at The Dorsey (iced tea for Clare), spaghetti and meatballs at LAVO and then her least favorite nightclub, TAO. She’d been kicked out a year ago for giving a blowjob to a man in a silver-gray suit. Every time she went back she was afraid the bouncer’s eyes would catch hers and light up with recognition.
She sat beside Brian in the booth. They exchanged nervous smiles.
“What’d you do today?” she asked him. She’d never seen him—or any of them—in the daylight.
“I got up early and went for a hike,” he said.
She imagined herself bobbing along on the trail behind him in the wrong shoes.
“What’d you do?”
At sunrise, she’d skinny-dipped in a private pool at The Palms, her pulse throbbing with splendor as the man’s fingers slid inside her.
Later that night, Clare met up with a traveling salesman in his room at MGM Grand. It was one of the suites the hotel referred to as Sky Lofts, the kind of room with multiple stories and floor to ceiling windows that looked out over the rainbow lights.
“What do you think of my suite?” the man said, whiskey drunk as he fucked her against the window. She could feel him going soft inside of her.
“I’ve seen better,” she said.
Friday was the pool at Mandalay Bay. Calamari at Skyfall Lounge. A booth at The Light. Missionary position on top of the sheets at The Cromwell.
Saturday was Rhumbar. Lobster at Stack. Dancing at 1OAK. Anal sex at The Mirage.
Sunday was Rosina. Nothing to eat at the steakhouse. A strip club she didn’t know the name of. A threeway with two Georgia frat boys.
On Monday, Clare slept until 6pm. She hated the hollow feeling she got when she woke up as the sun was setting. It reminded her of staying home sick from school as a kid, sleeping all day and then waking up to darkness outside her window and the smell of her mother making her grilled cheese downstairs.
She was naked. She could always tell how late she’d been out the night before based on what she was wearing when she woke up. Actual pajamas meant 1am. Last night’s clothes meant 4am. Naked meant after the rest of the world had gone to work. She climbed out of bed, wrapping herself in her robe. She picked up her phone to call for something to eat, or some Aspirin, or a Diet Coke, maybe. But she realized she wanted none of that. She wondered what Brian was doing in his apartment. She wondered what they’d be doing if he was in her apartment. He’d be making dinner reservations, or maybe saying, “Let’s stay in and watch a movie. I’ll go get Chinese takeout.”
And when her phone buzzed—Charlotte, asking if she wanted to meet for dinner at Nobu and go to Omnia after—she told herself she was going to stay in, but of course that was a lie. She was already slipping into her heels.
Clare was nervous, thirsty.
When she met them at 9:15, they were already sitting, their heads close together, crowded around something Jessica was holding. Tyler was drinking beer from a pint glass and saying, “No way, no way.” Charlotte had one hand over her mouth. Brian’s expression was as indecipherable as ever. They didn’t look up until Clare was standing right in front of them.
Clare didn’t need to look at the flyer to know what it said, but she did anyway. The flyers were a part of the business. They were not optional, but even if she could have opted out of appearing on one, she wouldn’t have. It gave her a thrill to see her photograph, hair tousled, lips parted, her hands on her breasts.
Hot sexy babes direct to your hotel room, it read. It had never occurred to her that these friends might see the flyer, but she supposed it was inevitable. Still, she would have liked it to have been on her terms. She straightened her shoulders and peered at her friends, waiting for their reaction.
Tyler’s eyes were fixed on her, examining her body as if he were seeing it for the first time.
“Is this where you go when you disappear from the club?” Charlotte asked her.
Everyone at the table was looking at her, watching her resolve fade away. She tried to maintain her composure, tried to get the words that she wanted to say out: This is what turns me on. I’m not ashamed.
But they were looking at her with scorn, with amusement and worst of all, they were looking at her like they felt sorry for her.
She’d been fucked on a pool table in front of a cheering bachelor party, she’d been tied to a bed and burned with candle wax, she’d had a fist in her pussy, two hands on her neck. Every bit of it had made her want more, more, more.
This was a first for Clare, this moment with these friends. This was the first time she’d ever experienced shame.
Clare woke up in pajamas the next afternoon to a knock at the door. She turned the knob and there was Brian, standing in a white t-shirt and faded jeans, his hair still damp from the shower.
“I hope it’s okay,” he said. “Your doorman let me in.”
She rested one hand against the frame of the door and looked at him, trying to figure out what he wanted.
“I guess maybe your building needs tighter security,” Brian said. And when Clare said nothing he smiled slightly and added. “It was a joke.”
“I know,” she said, softening. “I’m just not used to having people knock on this door.”
“Can I come in?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said. He followed her into the apartment and sat down on the couch. She stood against the wall, her arms crossed, covering her body.
“I don’t have any coffee or anything to offer you,” she said.
The light in the apartment was flat. Outside the sky was white. She felt exposed, having him in her space.
“Listen,” Brian began and then stopped and looked directly at her. “Can you come sit down?”
Clare moved to the couch, studying his face in the light.
“I just wanted to say that I think last night was really messed up. I needed you to know that I had nothing to do with it.”
“Oh,” she said, her body flooding with relief.
He moved closer to her. “I was up all night thinking about you.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Clare said. “I’m fine.”
“It’s not that,” he said.
And then he was reaching for her, his hands cupping her face and pulling it towards his. He pressed his mouth against hers and she kissed him back, desperately. She could smell the soap. She could feel the muscles of his back beneath his cotton shirt.
He rested his forehead against hers and whispered, “I’m going to save you from all this.”
Something inside her stomach tightened. Brian put his hand on her left breast and squeezed. His mouth was wet against her ear.
“But first I’m going to show you what it’s like to be fucked by someone who’s not paying you,” he said.
He pressed her into the cushions of the couch, pushing up her shirt and pulling down her pajama shorts, and then he pulled down his jeans, his underwear, leaving his shirt on. His tongue darted into her mouth, stabbing her.
“You don’t have to pretend with me like you do with them,” he said, pushing himself inside of her. He moved without rhythm, gasping until he thrust one last time and collapsed on top of her.
“Brian,” she whispered. “I don’t pretend with them.”
He pulled himself out from her and stood abruptly.
“Then what are you?” he asked. “A whore?”
She studied him, standing over her, this boy who had climbed to the 30th floor of the tower she lived in, thinking he could rescue her like a knight. But she lived in a high rise apartment, not a castle. This wasn’t Camelot; this was Las Vegas.
“You can let yourself out,” she said.
The door slammed shut and Clare laid there, breathing in and out in the amber light, watching the citrus colored sun fall over the balcony. She stretched her limbs like a cat in a sunbeam. She stayed there for a while, watching the shadows lengthen, listening to the helicopters return from day trip tours to the Grand Canyon.
After the sun dropped below the Spring Mountains, she pulled herself off of the couch and made her way to her closet. It was just her now.
She stood there naked, running her hands over the sparkling dresses on hangers. There was the pink one with the lace, the black one with the leather and the blue one with the flowers. The phone rang, and it was a number she didn’t recognize. A smile spread over her face.
The pink one, she decided. Yes, of course.
Krista Diamond's fiction and personal essays have appeared in Barrelhouse, Barren Magazine, Longleaf Review, After Happy Hour Review and elsewhere. She also regularly contributes to Eater, Desert Companion and Nevada Magazine. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband and her dog, Presley.