Chapter 12: Liquid Dreams
Because I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Chloe alone for too long after Frank’s death, I begged her to join me and Andreas on our costume shopping spree. We traveled through masquerade and Halloween stores looking for the most delicious and tempting attire, laughing and joking every step of the way. Finding clothes for the team was easy, but when it came to dressing me accordingly to the party’s theme, the hilarity ensued.
“Haze, you’re the one who said putting people in the field who don’t usually work in the field would defeat the purpose of the mission because they wouldn’t know what to do. So, uh, what the hell are you going to do at the party?”
“I was curious about that myself,” Andreas suspiciously mumbled. I shot him a vicious look that could have stopped traffic, but it didn’t faze him. He was boiling with jealousy.
“I haven’t really figured that out yet.”
“Listen, all I know is that we need all hands on deck and it’s better for me to be in there in case something happens rather than outside with you guys where I’m going to be told to sit back and let the professionals do their job anyway. At least I’ll be first on the scene.”
“First on the scene? But what are you going to do on the scene? We can’t dress you to play a part if you don’t know what part you want to play.”
“What part do I need to play other than the mother hen watching over everyone?”
“You want to walk in there dressed like a bird?” Chloe laughed.
“I don’t know!”
“I do,” Andreas said confidently. “You don’t need to come across as a temptress; that’s not where you’re sexiness lies. You need to be seen … as a leader, a respected yet undeniable force of beauty and sensuality. Your costume shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. It should make you want to walk tall and proudly. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to sell it at this party.”
Chloe and my face stretched in awe, but as usual, Chloe was the first to break any and all silences.
“Well damn. Listen to you coming with all kinds of knowledge. His ego stroke game is amazing, ain’t it? Answer me this though: what kind of costume can she wear that’ll capture all of that?”
“One fit for a goddess,” he told with a grin as he put a get-up labeled Sexy Aphrodite on display. My mouth dropped to the floor!
It was a sheer white halter top with a keyhole neckline and golden straps that fastened behind my neck. The skirt was fabulously fluid, but it was thin as all get out and sliced from the peak of my hips down to the floor, showing every bit of both of my legs! It was provocative to say the least. The very least. I was half-naked! Arms … out. Stomach … out. Legs … out. The only things this supposed costume covered were my breast, my butt, and my vagina!
“Haze! You look gorgeous!”
“I look exposed. This is not an outfit; it’s a cobweb.”
“Well, there are going to be some creepy crawlers in the building.”
“Andreas, what on earth would make you pick this?”
“Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Those are all elements that you represent and hold the key to with your shop! It’s perfect for you.”
“But y’all, I’m all out here!”
“You’re supposed to be all out there, fool! What, did you think you’d be able to peruse a secret sex party dressed like a nun? Or did you want to go back to being covered in feathers?” Chloe snickered.
“I’m just saying!
In the potential circumstance that my staff would be just as bashful as I was about my costume, I asked for an emergency meeting the day before the party at the storefront. Surprisingly enough, they were thrilled with our choices for them. Well, most of them.
“How are y’all going to have me dress up like Deadpool?” Darius whined. “I’m not even the one who made that comment! Jasper did.”
“At least you got the better end of the stick with my comment! How am I supposed to seduce in a full-blown V for Vendetta mask and cape?”
“Use your personality?”
“Don’t worry, dear. That’s why we cut a hole out in the penis area for you. Once those women see your island jewel, I don’t think you’ll have any problems seducing them. Darius’s costume has one too,” I revealed as they both checked. Their eyes grew large with horror.
“Oh, y’all are so wrong!”
The room filled with laughter as the rest of the team relished in their new uniforms. My blond-haired, blue-eyed dolls loved their matching characters of Joker and Harley Quinn. Thomas said that he was a die hard fan, and Amy in all her adorable splendor couldn’t wait to adorn the short shorts, short-sleeved belly shirt, and heeled booties. Also set to go along with my whole coordinated villian/villianess theme were Ana and Sebastian as a She-Devil and El Diablo duo. Ana said that her dark red corset and Lycra pants made her feel like a Latina Elektra while Sebastian appreciated the simplicity of only donning a white t-shirt, jeans, and fake face tattoos. Reed and Autumn were similarly parallel as red-headed villains The Riddler and Poison Ivy. Even I was gushing with excited to coat her with genuine vines from my floral studio.
Since Chenoa’s confidence and comfort level had been affected by a not-so-great encounter with Judd, and I had a good feeling he would be at the party, I had her dress as a dominatrix. Nothing like a good old whip and skin tight leather to put some pep back in your step. Were it not for the mask that came with Jade’s Catwoman outfit, the two of them would have looked like Biker Girl twins or something. Neither Novia or Alan had any qualms one way or the other about wearing vampire garb. Sun-kissed beauty, Yasamina, on the other hand was extremely curious as to why I picked Wonder Woman for her.
“Other than the fact that your long legs and strong shoulders would look amazing in this corset and leather skirt, do you know any man that does not want to have sex with Wonder Woman?”
Speaking of accenting my staff’s natural assets, Zane’s emerald green eyes against his dark brown skin always made him stand out, so I figured it was best to put him in an outfit that accentuated that. He got a kick out of dressing up like a ninja, and he looked like a big kid gleefully swinging his plastic sword around. Hiro actually got a little jealous, until I handed him a full suit with a venetian masquerade mask and told him he was going to go to the party under the guise of an Asian Christian Grey. In a strange contrast, Cam felt her Genie in a Bottle ensemble sexually objectified her – which confused the whole lot of us considering the business we were in – until she saw me walk out draped in my Sexy Aphrodite rags.
“Mrs. Donato, you look … wow!”
“All right, all right, y’all. Stop before you make me blush. I already feel weird enough in next to no clothes. According to the rules of this event, their personal limousine service will show up at one pickup spot to collect all of its party goers.”
“That’s odd,” Amy voiced with a scrunched face.
“Yeah, well, I guess our hosts aren’t kidding about assuring the venue’s secrecy. We won’t know where we’re going until the day of. The hosts will send me a text with the pickup location and it is my job to make sure that anyone accompanying me gets the message.”
“Wait, what if they kick one of us out like they did Andreas?” Jasper wondered. I was glad when Andreas’s delicate touch warned me to pause so he could answer that question.
“Generally, they’ll have a limo drop you back off where you car is, but considering how much we need all hands on deck for this one, I would advise not getting kicked out.”
“So we can drive ourselves there, just not to the actually party?” Darius asked before Andreas nodded in response. “Real quick, though. Where’s your costume? I see we have to dress up. Even Mrs. Donato is in a costume, but you and Talia and Chloe aren’t. What’s up with that?”
“Talia, Andreas, and I are standing on the sidelines so we can monitor y’all while you’re in there.”
“But how are we going to do that if they’re not bugged,” Talia challenged as I eyeballed Chloe. “If this party is as exclusive as you guys keep saying it is, our police scanners are useless, right? Unless they are going to have officers on the premises, which could get every last one of us arrested for solicitation.”
“Oh my God! Talia’s right,” Chenoa panicked. “I mean, Jade got her invitation from that Martin Hillard guy while she was on the job so he knows she’s an escort, and we just invited our entire client list who all know! Oh my God, we’re going to jail!”
“Girl, you’re talking crazy, now. Mrs. Donato wouldn’t set us up like that.”
“Think about it, Cam. We’re going into this crazy ass orgy blind to – quote, unquote – implicate the right people who are nine times out of ten famous or rich or deeply connected and untouchable, but we’re not going to have any proof! And just like you said about Frank’s death, Mrs. Donato, who’s going to believe a bunch of prostitutes? We can’t treat this like The Vault. We can’t just bring the information back to you and use it for blackmail. If cops are there, who’s going to take our word over those other people unless we have proof?”
“You’re jumping the gun. Talia just asked if police were going to be there; no one said there would actually be any.”
As the bickering continued, I tensely took another look at my cousin. She could already tell what I was thinking, and shook her head in attempts to stop me, but I couldn’t help myself. They had to know. They all had to know. If not to ease their minds then at least to let them know that I was still taking care of them. I couldn’t let my people walk into the unknown feeling like they weren’t protected. I needed them to know that I had their back … always.
“Okay, y’all want to hear the truth?”
“We’re going to have to tell them sooner or later, Lo, so we mine-as-well tell them now.”
“Tell us what?” Talia asked as the rest of the team waited with anticipation. I don’t think the heavy sigh that filled the room helped matters any.
“The truth is … the cops are going to be at the party.”
“Oh my God.”
“Please tell me they’re corrupt ones that got invited to the orgy too,” Talia said with her head in her hands. “At least we’ll have that going for us.”
“No we won’t. Corrupt or not, they’re still cops and cops protect their own!”
“As do we, Alan,” I assured. “The ones I’m referring to are going to be there for our benefit.”
“Our benefit? What do you mean our benefit?”
“What are you trying to say, Mrs. Donato? Are you a cop?”
“No, Thomas, but I am working with one.”
“And Chloe knew about this?”
“Oh my God! You ratted us out! I knew it! She ratted us out.”
“No. No. No! It’s nothing like that. I would never do that to y’all. Now, if you would just listen instead of getting excited, I’ll explain what’s going on,” I firmly told as the white noise in the room began to settle. “The night Frankie was killed, I was a wreck. Completely out of it, and when you guys tried to tell me to go to the police, I didn’t want to listen. I’ll admit it. Just like Chenoa, I … I figured we wouldn’t stand a chance against Judd Payton or any of our other famous clients. But when I went home, I couldn’t shake that fear. The fear that the person responsible would get away with Frankie’s murder. The fear that, if I let that happen, it would make all of us accessible … and I can’t have that on my heart. So, that night, I made a phone call to the local police and I told them that I not only had information about Frankie’s murder, but about some other criminal activity. They’re looking to make some major busts, I offered to be an informant, but I never told them about you guys.”
“How is that possible? How could you offer to help them without telling them about your business and all of us?”
“Because they don’t give a damn about what I do or what my job is; I’m not the target. It’s the quality of the bust that they care about. I’m offering to give up some very big names, names of people that they’ve been after but cannot seem to get their hands on for unforeseen reasons. By using me, they get to see the reasons why.”
I nodded in Chloe’s direction, signaling for her to hand me a few items from the collection of camouflaged spy gear she had received from her day job. “There’s a reason why I told y’all to tell your clients that you were inviting them as your special guests. We have some high-end clientele that the government is interested in, and in order to catch them in the act, we want each of you to wear one of these for the duration of the party.”
“I’m sorry,” Ana started with a raised hand. “Maybe I’m a little dumb, but I’m not understanding how watches and necklaces are going to help us get the information we need.”
“These little trinkets have hidden cameras and recorders in them. You wear these, and not only does it record your time with them at this party, but no one will suspect them, and it will allow the police to get the information they need on the people they want.”
“So we’re snitches now?”
“Well hell, Zane, would you rather keep having sex with married women for money and risk the possibility of ending up like Frankie, or do you want out?”
“And after we do this, we’ll never have to see any of them again?” Chenoa asked. The lingering hope in her voice melted my heart, and I couldn’t help but return her doe-eyed gaze with one of compassion and security.
“Never again. One last delivery. That’s it, and when y’all go home tonight, I want you to think about what that means for you. Think about … what you’ve been working so hard for, what you’ve been saving up for. Think about what you’re dream is, because I promise you, after tomorrow night, this career will be over, and you’ll be able to live the lives you want. We all will,” I smiled to myself.
I found it hilarious that it was difficult for me to take my own advice once I got home. My original plan once I walked away from the sex service industry was to support my actor husband and bask in the simplicity of gardening in the backyard and decorating our cute little house and dreaming about the beautiful babies we’d have together. But now that I was getting a divorce, my dream had to be readjusted. And I couldn’t concentrate with Andreas reaching over from the other side of my bed, tickling me and making me laugh!
As much as I loved the sound of our laughter crowding the air, I begged him to stop before I peed myself. A smile still occupied my face when I jumped up to run to the bathroom, but a high-pitched squeal resonated the second he playfully smacked my butt. His lively spirit was definitely the cause for my lack of focus, and depression. Were it not for Andreas, I would have still been holed up in the Ritz-Carlton Suite in downtown Los Angeles bawling my eyes out. Were it not for Andreas, I would have lost all my employees the night Frankie was killed. Were it not for Andreas, I would still be thinking that my life was over because of all that I had lost instead of reminding myself of all the people I still had to live for. I had a lot to thank him for, and I planned to … with every inch of my body, but the question he asked me on my out of the bathroom threw me off guard.
“Do you see me in your dreams?′
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Earlier, when you were talking to everyone, you told them to go home tonight and think about the life they wanted, how they would be able to live their dreams after tomorrow. So I’m asking you, do you see me in yours?”
“Andreas, it’s a little soon to be thinking about all that.”
“Not when there’s a possibility that I might not see you again after tomorrow night,” he blurted, stunning me to silence. “Do you realize that that’s what you said tonight? If we’re not working in the industry anymore, then we’re not working for you anymore. What other reason will we have to come to shop, to stop by and buy flowers? Are you even keeping the shop open after we pull this off? Have you thought about any of that?”
“To be perfectly honest, no, I haven’t. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the shop. I mean, I know it wouldn’t be used for a front anymore, but do I want to keep it open as a regular floral shop again? I honestly don’t know. I do love making bouquets, and that is the reason Lorenzo and I opened the shop in the first place, but after all this, after all it became, I don’t know if it can ever go back to just being a regular flower shop.”
“So, what does that mean for you? What else do you want it to be?”
My eyes wildly wandered the room while he watched me, patiently waiting for an answer, an answer I wasn’t sure that I was equip to give. So, in the midst of my uncertainty, I told the truth. “I want it to be … meaningful. I want it to stand out as something special.”
“Well, what’s special to you, Hazel?”
“This is going to sound kind of crazy, but that’s what I don’t know. I told you that before, Andreas. I had a plan. Plans change. I don’t know what I want to do just yet.”
“Do you know what you want to do about us?” he lured as I laid beside him. “I want to be with you, Hazel. You know that. I’m willing to make this work however you want to do it, but you have to tell me that this is what you want. That I’m what you want.”
“There’s no easy answer to that, Andreas.”
“Why do I feel like you keep giving me the run around? You have no problem having sex with me, but when it comes to me asking you about a title or whether or not we’re going to be something, all the sudden, you’re speechless.”
“Don’t see it that way. It’s not like I’m using you.”
“Then what is it like, because I’ve got to tell you, I just don’t get it.”
“I had only been with one person until you. I had only seen my life with one person until you. I … I guess a part of me still feels like I’m doing something wrong, like I’m cheating or something, but another part of me is scared to death to fall for another person knowing that there is a possibility of you leaving me too like Lorenzo did.”
“I … am not … Lorenzo.”
“I know that.”
“Then act like you know it, because I’m not going to keep competing with the ghost of your ex!” he exclaimed, abruptly getting out of the bed. “I think I’m better off sleeping in my own bed tonight.”
“Are you serious? You can’t force somebody to move on, Andreas.”
“Correction: you can’t force somebody to move on who isn’t ready to move on. If you’re still stuck on Lorenzo, why are in bed with me?”
“Because I want to be.”
“Because I like being with you.”
“Because … because you make me smile.”
“So I’m your comedian?”
“And you make me feel safe.”
“Oh, I’m a bodyguard now?”
“And you make me want to be a version of myself I didn’t know I could be.”
“That’s great, Hazel. I’m glad I could help you with that, but there seems to be one thing you’re not grasping.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I love you, Hazel. I love you so much, it hurts. It hurts to see you in pain. It hurts to see you stressed. It hurt to see Lorenzo not treat you the way you deserved to be treated, and it hurts to think about you strolling the inside of an orgy in that beautiful Aphrodite outfit surrounded by men that want to ravage you instead of respect you like I do. But none of that hurts more than the fact that you have been in the presence of the wrong kind of man for so long, you don’t know what to do when the right one is laying right next to you.”
“Andreas, I … I don’t … I don’t know what to say.”
“Then I’m going to walk away until you do. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
And he did just that. He picked up his clothes, left my bedroom, and walked right out of my house. And all I could do was allow my head to fall back on my pillow.
“What the hell did I get myself into now?”