I treat my work with respect. That’s why I’m on time as I walk downstairs from my second floor suite to the hotel lobby. I made sure I had enough time to get ready. I have concealer covering the three abscesses on my arms. I’m in that black Moschino dress. The one with the V-neck so low it nearly reaches my belly button. And although it might get too warm, I’m wearing my pink cardigan over my shoulders. If the concealer rubs off or fades, I’ll put the cardigan on properly until I can get to a ladies’ room to reapply it. Of course, I’ve brought the pot of concealer with me in my handbag.
I’m expecting to see Greg outside but just in case, I check the reception area and the sofas around the corner first. He’s not there. I walk through the automatic, glass doors to the front of the Radisson Hotel. The sun’s nearly gone down. It’s that strange twilight time. On the other side of the road, the sea is glistening. I watch it sparkle, as I stroll up and down on the pavement, waiting for him to arrive.
Suddenly, hands cover my eyes. My body jerks automatically. I know it’s Greg. This is his thing. He knows it makes me jump – it’s my startle response. He likes that.
“Hello you,” I say, prizing the fingers from my face.
“Hello beautiful,” an Australian male voice says. It’s not Greg. Who the hell is it?
With my head freed, I turn around. It’s Mickey. He’s come for me. Beautiful. He called me beautiful. Adrenalin is pumping from my chest upwards to my face. The warmth settles on my cheeks. Damn, I’m blushing. I don’t want to be blushing. “You were a long time having that beer.” I slip my hand into my hobo bag, taking out the packet of cigarettes.
“I had to give the matter a lot of thought. Something so serious shouldn’t be rushed.” He smiles.
I light a cigarette. My hands are shaking slightly. I hope Mickey doesn’t notice. Greg will be here in a minute. I need to get rid of Mickey. If he sees me with Greg, he won’t want to know me. He can’t find out what I do for work.
I look into his eyes. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen eyes as light a blue as his before. Speak, I tell myself. Speak. “I’m glad you realise I need to be taken so seriously. I can be fun though.” I wink. They weren’t words I would choose. Where did they come from? My nervousness probably. I’m an expert flirt but the words aren’t flowing like they usually do.
“You’ll need to show me.” Mickey runs his fingers backwards from his forehead through his short brown hair.
I imagine his fingers running over my stomach and up to my breasts. I shiver. My chest is cold. He needs to go. Greg could arrive anytime. “What are you doing tomorrow?” I ask.
“What about now? Or was I too slow?” The corners of his thin mouth dip. “Looks like you might’ve got yourself a date already.”
“I’m having dinner with a client. I’ll see you on the beach tomorrow. I need to get back inside.”
“You’re working late. What do you do?”
I take a pull on my cigarette, buying time. “Sorry. I need to rush. Meet me at the beach.” As I run through the automatic doors into the hotel lobby, I turn, and toss my cigarette out on the pavement.
Worried that Mickey might want to wait with me inside, if he sees me loitering in reception, I make my way to the bar. I could do with a drink after that encounter. In fact, a drink before the encounter would have been useful. Why did I tell him I was meeting a client? I’m never nervous with men. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Perhaps it’s remnants from the anxiety I had last night.
I’m dying for a fix but I’m not seeing Lorna tonight. I don’t have a physical cluck. I’ve only used two nights in a row so far. There’s a slight aching in my legs, though that could be from lying on the hardness of the sand today. There’s no sweats. But what I do have is the craving – an all-encompassing, all-consuming yearning for a hit.
I see Greg sat on a barstool. I make my way over. I’d rather not be seen in public with a client but Greg likes to do the whole girlfriend thing. He looks like a wanker even from a few feet away. He’s in his forties, I reckon. He’s never said his age. He talks about his wife and son in such a derogatory manner. I can’t bear his company. But I play the game, nevertheless.
“Where have you been, naughty girl?” He adjusts the collar of his white shirt. He’s always adjusting the collar of a white shirt. Perhaps that’s what gives him away as a wanker.
“I was waiting outside for you, like we arranged.” I kiss him on the cheek.
“No, we didn’t. I said we’d meet at the bar. You scatty little minx!” He ruffles my hair. I hate it when he does that.
“So we did.” I lie.
He thinks he’s playing with my head. But he’s not. I know what he does and it’s actually me who’s playing with his. I know we were meant to meet outside. He thinks he’s managed to confuse me, make me question myself. I know his gaslighting. That’s why I call him Gaslighting Greg. He’s always at it. It makes him feel superior, in control, above and better than me. But his gaslighting doesn’t work on me. He doesn’t know that though. He thinks it does. It’s part of the service I offer – giving the client what he wants. Because he doesn’t know I’m playing him at his own mind game, he doesn’t know my real position or his. Of course, I do. The position I lead him to believe that he holds is supported by me, as long as I continue to play. He’s being propped up by me. And because I’m propping him up, I can pull him down anytime I like. Who’s in control now, Gaslighting Greg?
“I must listen to you more carefully.” A wide smile spreads across my face. “So where are we having dinner?”