Stratus Fear

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Chapter Fifteen

The winds had died down, leaving behind a heavy veil of smog over the San Fernando Valley. Between the lunar glow and the lights of both upper and lower cities, the night sky looked a gauzy ecru-yellow, the city itself filled with the smoky ghosts of palm trees and buildings. Normally I don’t pay too much attention to the weather—not that we have frequent or catastrophic climate changes above and beyond the normal earthquakes—but tonight I seemed to see the town in stark reality without my eye shades to dim and soften the flaws. Tourists believe that we live in a perpetual state of laidback fun in the sun, tinsel town with the stars right within reach, if you knew how to climb up and catch one or two in their celluloid towers on Terre Celeste. Celluloid. Now that’s a funny and old-fashioned word and I had no idea why I thought of it other than it seemed to fit the Hollywood of yesteryear, the golden era when action was captured on real film and shown in real theaters, not the quasi-dimensional illusions that now grace people’s living room screens. Sure, people still idolized their movie stars, but actors nowadays existed in a cynical world, all self-involved and dismissive of their fans’ expectations.

And tinsel town had become its own illusion, the frayed ends encroaching upon the middle of that pristine, sun and surf paradise. Most buildings looked bland now, cracked and decaying shells, the people just as jaded and faded, and too many to count or care.

So when I pulled in behind Dane once we reached his apartment building along Avalon Boulevard, I received a pleasant surprise. The old stucco houses along the block had been replaced by a grand high-rise, all contours and curves with individual flats stacked and interwoven in a modernistic design. Despite the complex’s utilitarian gray and glass exterior it still looked quite impressive. Of course, I wanted to ask Dane why he chose to live here when he must make enough to afford a house on Terra Celeste where he could avail himself of all the executive amenities, but I held off until I saw the rest of his environs. We rode the main ramp-way that slithered through the building, and continued our climb until he stopped on the fifth floor. Once at his apartment, he used his scanner code and opened the door, allowing me to enter first.

I let out a quick gasp of amazement when Dane turned on the overhead crystal foyer lamp. Here, in the midst of this wasteland called LA, was a beautifully-appointed world, a decorator’s dream space of real leather, glass, and wood, furniture and fabrics in ebony and cobalt, cabinet paneling of iridescent mother-of-pearl, and metal sculptures that served as both side tables and lamps. Neo-laser art graced the slate walls in silver frames, and one of those old-fashioned spiral staircases led the way to a second floor.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” Dane announced while he walked over to a row of glass patio doors. Opening a pair, he beckoned for me to join him on the deck outside. Still in shock or perhaps touched with enchantment, I moved forward until I found myself on the spacious tiered patio that offered a view over and beyond the urban sprawl. Blooming plants in black and white ceramic pots sat everywhere, and a quartet of comfortable chaise loungers offered cushions in a charcoal and silver weave. Handsome side tables came in polished black granite with chrome and glass features. For the flooring Dane used simple fieldstone tiles in a cream hue that formed a circular pattern and converged around the porcelain jet spa.

“Wow!” was all I could manage at the moment.

As he leaned against the balcony railing, Dane smiled at me. “I find it very soothing here, and definitely conducive to more pleasurable pursuits.”

“Not your typical bachelor pad,” I opined and took a tentative seat on one of the loungers, finding the cushions as soft as clouds.

“Nope,” he laughed as he stood straight and then approached me. “It’s my own space where I leave business behind and just enjoy life.”

“It’s…perfect.” Perhaps even too perfect, but I certainly couldn’t complain, especially when he told me to make myself comfortable while he’d fix me a drink. “Nothing alcoholic now,” I reminded him since I had to drive home. I finally focused my gaze on Dane as he went inside and over to a chrome wall unit. One swish of his hand opened a half shell wall to reveal a fully stocked bar, crystal glasses and dark decanters on shelves of black and white marble swirl.

As he poured sparkling water and Pasionola into slim, smoky tumblers, I strolled back over to the open patio doors and leaned against the frame. “You know,” I opined in a lackadaisical mood, “if I had a place like this I don’t think I’d ever leave the premises. Even an earthquake wouldn’t budge me.”

“The idea is certainly tempting,” he answered with a light smile. “More times than not I just want to stay in bed and while away the day.”

“You should,” I advised in all seriousness, “or at least entertain a few indulgent guests. Do you do much entertaining?”

“Once in awhile. Not lately though. I just don’t seem to have the time anymore.” As he spoke, Dane walked over with our libations and offered the tumbler in his left hand. I took the drink and whispered my thanks.

Dane held up his glass. “Well, here’s to relaxation when and where we can get it.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

“Oh, and speaking of relaxing,” he continued after we both sipped at our drinks, fizzy with just a touch of passion flower sweetness. “I haven’t shown you the bedroom yet. Care to see my lair? Or do you think it’s too much too fast?”

“I’m not afraid…at least not yet.”

“Good. I like a strong woman, unafraid to explore new territory. So, let’s go explore.”

He seized my glass and set both of ours down on a nearby table. Then, hooking his arm through mine, he walked me over to the spiral staircase. “I have an elevator, but I prefer the old-fashioned method of physical activity.”

For a moment, I wondered if that included sex, good, hard, strenuous sex to rev up the heartbeat and strain all the right muscles. I quickly banished the thought although I knew it would resurface again later on this evening while I lay alone in bed unable and unwilling to go to sleep without the comfort of a male presence.

Now Dane allowed me to climb the steps first before he followed at a discreet distance, already having turned on the upstairs lightning. Of course, the second floor was just as stunning, and probably even brighter with large clerestory windows to let in the day’s sunshine. A color scheme of white, silver, charcoal and cool blue ran from the walls to the settee cushions to the nubby carpeting. My focus kept returning to the sunken bed surrounded by mirrored panels and blue lighting tubes along the recessed sides. To get to the bed you simply stepped down to the mattress, or walked on top of the downy and shimmering pale-blue and silver duvet.

Suddenly I felt his fingers dive under my chin and coax my head towards the ceiling. I opened my mouth first, set to say something witty, but I couldn’t form the words as awe strangled me. The domed ceiling had been fashioned as the vast universe beyond the earth. Millions of stars twinkled and formed the constellations while others blazed across the ceiling with sparkling tails. Shooting stars they were called, although I had never seen one. Several bright planets rotated by, and I recognized Saturn and Mars, even our own moon as it had been before colonization.

“It’s so…” I finally managed. “Brilliant…fantastic!”

“Well, I like it. And you have to admit it’s better than staring at a plain ceiling.” Standing beside me, Dane laughed effervescently, his fingers long since gone from my chin, although his imprint remained on my flesh and his scent lingered to taunt me with his potent presence.

“Of course,” he added, “I could have done the whole thing in mirrors, but why do I want to see myself in all my sleepy muss head glory?”

I bit my tongue as I thought of alternative scenarios, such as his perfectly-formed ass and muscular back reflected for my enjoyment as he pumped me silly along the bed…

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