The Last Emperors.
Chapter Seventeen: Sinners and Saints.
By Jolie Adam
Lorra and Laura are dispersed through the crowd like peas in a well-furnished salad. Even without the contractual obligations, this was THE party to see and be seen. A few paparazzi’s had managed to sneak in, probably after disbursing a hefty sum to the main guard, and were now camouflaging with the hired photographers. Most guests were over their responsible drink limits and a mere flute of champagne away from a scandal. And the hawks of paparazzi’s were vigilant, the only sober people in this exquisite hall inside this fancy house whose walls were silently wailing in relief, for a few secrets would inevitably be disrobed tonight. Even Mr. Shori was in a pleasant mood, being enjoyable with his special friends who’d flown in from Saudi Arabia for the party. He hated mixing business with pleasure but with an untapped abundance of wealth from some of the most restricted and conservative people in the world, it was the perfect opportunity to invite his contacts from the other side of Asia and show them how a real party was done. And when the Arabs got loose, all of their billions came down as well and flowed freely into the proper (and well-timed) investment. Heck, if they’d brought their oil and minerals with them, Mr. Shori would’ve gladly persuaded them out of that too.
Now that the air was clear and everyone had put their differences aside, with the exception of Larry and Dawn who had no consistencies to begin with, the truth had set them free. Laurent was having a blast spoiling the birthday girl with attention and his company. Tatiana felt cherished and hopeful about the big reveal. The production manager was finally ordering the large glass of Chardonnay she deserved now that she’d confirmed and witnessed everything had been executed flawlessly. Even the elephant would be retiring soon since all of the guests had arrived. It was well past one in the morning and if you weren’t already there, chances are you weren’t asked to be. A few more hours and the ropes would be undone again, the security on guard again and the paparazzi standing anxiously again after hours of waiting outside, drinking coffee and Redbull in rotation, to document the aftermath. Who would come crumbling out of the mansion? Who wouldn’t exit? Who will come out with a newfound buddy or romance? What celebrities hooked up, broke up, got in a fight, did something tabloid-worthy, or at least speculation-worthy? The dirt and grime of the real work was never seen in the photoshopped photos that made the cover. Celebrities were the most shameless, senseless and reckless people on earth and the industry that sheltered them was incestuous, tumultuous and dangerous. None of those aspects ever reared their ugly heads in the ultra-glamorous edits that the rest of the world saw. And for the sheer reason that most of them witnessed things they shouldn’t, these vultures of photographers were the bane of the rich and famous’ existence. It all came around somehow. The magazines paid for these shots which publicized certain names therefore giving them more fame and status and making them in demand. Once they were in demand, they would gladly accept to grace the cover of aforementioned magazine for the goodwill of their fans. And the papers would turn profit of magazine sales back into the hands of greedy paparazzi.
Larry danced with some Japanese socialite. He couldn’t quite remember her name not that she introduced herself but he remembered having seen her somewhere. He didn’t dare ask afraid to feel her wrath for not acknowledging her fame. Inside this convoluted Pandora mess of a house, he was already walking on thin ice. He’d seen Tatiana earlier and could hardly formulate plausible sentences together. She looked amazing. So amazing that he felt drool pooling under his tongue. She reminded him how prone to seduction and temptation he was. She was jail-bait, career-bait, and life-bait if her dad ever found out. Media mogul, yeah right. No one gets that rich without a bit of spilled blood and Larry was well aware of that. Despite his lucidity about the situation he’d put himself in, there was still that raw voice, emanating from the forefront of his mind telling him he should just lock her in a room and have his way with her again. She was practically begging for it from his brother and there Laurent was, wasting the holy grail of sexual incarnation. He remembered how he had practically squeezed himself into her and all of the blood rushed from his head and his toes to his member. He stopped dancing with the faceless socialite and walked off. She halted at his disgraceful exit and tried to laugh it off as if people were watching.
Lorra distanced herself from the banquet hall and finally found the way to the main house. This party was quickly becoming a dark space of ill-repute with guests getting out of hand and order. She’d had about five random girls grabbing her ass and trying to force their hands into her briefs at the allusion of her masked character. This is why she liked France and all of its idiosyncrasies. The country was a huge fuck-up of bohemian laws and liberal views so no one had to indulge in hypocrisy. If a man had a mistress, it was handled amiably, openly and mindlessly. In places like these, this hidden bath of fetish known as a city of culture, futuristic technology and ancient history, everyone worried about the opinions of the public, strangers and even foreigners. So when they had the chance to let loose in private, they didn’t hold back and most of it wasn’t pretty. Especially with the dark décor of the hall, it was the perfect opportunity to play innocent and blame everything on the alcohol. Although most of them were definitely drunk.
She wandered through the house, grateful that unlike other female guests, her costume was really just a mask and the rest of her attire was rather comfortable. Trailing in the long, infinite hallways, she admired the melange of modern architecture and antique concepts in the detailing, decorating and overall finish of the interior. The house was vast, perhaps the largest she’d ever been in, with lots of open space in one area and the complete opposite in another. In true structure of the East Asian elements of Yin and Yang, light and dark, good and bad, open and closed which complemented Mr. Shori’s character very well although she’d never seen his light side yet. During the party, she’d caught a glimpse of him entertaining his guests and he seemed livelier than usual. But still controlled, as if he would never allow any substance or entity or circumstance to overwhelm his power or presence. Men like him probably never let loose which explained his divorce. Three months in and it was still headlines in Tokyo, with new rumors and speculations every other week. She walked toward a massive door built in the likeliness of a temple entrance. It drew her in, the still energy of it, pulled her like a magnet. Looking around, she half-expected seasoned assassins to jump out of their camouflaged mold in the walls and stop her. But there was absolutely no one around. No maids, no cooks, no guests, no wandering eyes other than her own. Eagerly and briskly, she moved closer and pushed it open. Through the manageable slit in the doorway, she entered and closed it back quickly. Darkness engulfed the library like a heavy integument, rising from the carpeted floor and lingering upwards towards the small bursts of energy lights that were always left on. For a second, she considered keeping it dark and sacred, the creepy immobility of the moment, the sense of suspense and small fear but decided against it. She’d in here once very briefly the first and last time she’d visited the Shori mansion with the girls to sign the contract two months ago. Now that she was fortunate to experience the grandeur of it, she intended to do so. Turning the three light switches on, it suddenly became so bright that she felt like an artificial sun might just rise up behind one of the tall bookshelf. She lifted up her mask, her prudence confidently tossed out, and laid it on her head. The only witness to her identity was a massive quantity of books. From top to bottom, one door to another, were built-in bookshelves filled with books of all colors, sizes and weight. She suddenly felt like a man with philandering tendencies, hands itching to touch them all, to open them and see if the book would crack, if the pages would fall. They were undoubtedly ancient and with about 40,000 of them, she was certain no one in this house was bothering to read or look after them. Beginning at the first bookshelf, she quickly noticed that they were in alphabetic order. She slipped her hand to draw out one particular cover that grabbed her attention when a familiar voice startled her and the book fell from eye level down, thumping as it landed on the floor.
“You scared me! Jeez you really scared me,” she uttered breathlessly, trying to swallow with a dry mouth.
“When did you come in? I didn’t hear you and I just got here,” she looked around, wondering if there was anyone else lurking around who might pop out in any second. She fumbled with her mask, debating if she should put it back on. Surely, he knew but it still felt odd.
“I was here before you. I heard you come in and then turn on the lights.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t meant to bother you,” she exclaimed apologetically, very unlike Shao Mein whom she had completely forgotten about when she began her little adventurous walk, “but were you here in the dark?”
“Yeah, I just needed a break,” Larry retorted.
“I hear you,” she nodded. “Well, I think I should get out of here before I get caught with my face off,” she laughed uncomfortably. He looked just like Laurent but unfortunately, she wasn’t at ease with him as she was with his doppelganger. Their energies contravened although they’d never really been this close and they weren’t familiar with one another. She breathed out, waiting for him to move out of her way so she could leave. He didn’t move, didn’t even seem to blink so she smiled courteously out of discomfort. The closer she looked, the less similarities she found in his physical appearance and his presence. Lau was zen, quiet, resolved and peaceful, an unexpected blessing like coming across a garden of daisies in full bloom during a random walk. Her diffidence was visible in the face of his strident personality. His aura was plangent, frenzied and unresolved.
“Did you and my brother talk yet?” He asked, getting closer.
“Yeah, we did. Thankfully. You know how stubborn Laurent is,” she laughed hoping it would be contagious and break the ice. Although in intimation, it felt more like an iceberg. She watched him approach her, his lips advancing towards hers, his hands creep beneath her hoodie and press her against him, all in slow motion but in reality, it happened so fast. In fact, it was so fast that by the time she realized what was happening, their lips were already meshed together messily, her back against the bookshelf, his erection strong against her thigh. There was a rush, a sense of danger and adventure and partial disbelief and wrongful imagination before it settled in. Lorra pushed him off in vain but he was stronger and by the look of it, determined to get into her pants.
“Larry, stop. Please stop,” she pleaded with him, all of the aforesaid emotions turning to a sense of dread. He wouldn’t rape her, she was sure of that. But how far would he go?
“Come on, you know you want it.” Larry pinned her hands against the top shelf as he unbuckled his jeans. “You girls are all the same.” His teeth bit into the flesh on her neck, leaving a reddish irritation mark as he trailed up to her earlobe. She recoiled at his sensually manic offer, refusing to surrender.
“Why are you doing this? I said no!” His hand gripped her breasts fervently before she realized what it was about and opted for a different line of questioning, “Is this about Dawn?” And just like that, her words halted him in a look that resembled fear and uncertainty. His grip on her hands loosened and he relented in his forceful act of passion. Lorra shook her head in anger, contemplating how close it came to being out of hand.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Her chest rose in spasms, even though she wasn’t crying. She eyed him intensely, waiting for an apology or an explanation, backing away dramatically. He rubbed his forehead in exasperation, seemingly disappointed with himself.
“I’m sorry,” He began buckling his belt, avoiding her gaze, “Dawn and I are over. She won’t tell me why – just that it was fun and that’s it.” His hands went up in a riled effort, hoping it would suffice. Lorra knew there was something going on with her girl but between maintaining the secrecy of TLE and trying to get in touch with Laurent, she hadn’t been the best friend she was supposed to be. It didn’t justify Larry’s entitled behavior but it did make her feel bad. For him and for Dawn.
“Well, it doesn’t give you the right to force yourself on me. That’s wrong in any case. But I won’t say anything to Dawn or Lau,” she paused, watching him finally sulk, “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t know what’s up with Dawn either. But I’ll talk to her.” She left it at that, unwilling to make promises she couldn’t uphold. Once this settled and she approached her best friend, was he really the kind of guy she wanted Dawn to end up with. He may have been Laurent’s twin but that was the extent of which she was willing to acknowledge him as and tolerate. She straightened up and after a deep breath, walked away quickly until she was on the other side of the door once more before continuing her stroll.
Lau thought hard and long about what it meant for him to be crossing boundaries. Quite literally. Somehow, he’d managed to move from a large, buoyant crowd to this large, foreign space in Tatiana’s room. He looked around uneasily and curious at the same time, waiting for something to occupy his mind and attention from the quite obvious anticipation in the atmosphere. He’d wanted to say no when she asked for a private moment but it was bad custom to deny a birthday girl’s wishes. But how far would he sway in her favor before tumbling over his rigid ethical ground?
She sat on the bed next to him but a good distance away. The feelings were there, spreading through her effervescently but the words on the other hand, escaped her. This moment was so much more different than the dynamic and diverse scenarios she’d conjured mentally. She was allowed a good hour to profess her ardent desire for him before the party began to die out and people started inquiring about the birthday girl so deciding to make good use of the allotted time, she began,
“I’m sure you’ve probably guessed it by now but I like you, Laurent.” She’d meant to state that fact and leave it there but once the lid was unscrewed and the top uncorked, there was no blockage of free expression. “Actually, I like you a lot. You don’t care about what I am but rather who I am and you’re always nice to me.” She paused to gather some courage to continue but Laurent interjected in the heap of silence. He squirmed unnervingly, used to turning down women easily but surprised how hard it was to do the right thing when it came to the boss’ daughter. She was beautiful and at least now, she was legal so he really had no excuses to turn her down. Except he knew better.
“Tatiana, I’m so flattered – really, really flattered – that you like me,” he offered a pleasant smile, “I like you too. You’re a sweet girl and you’re very beautiful but you’re too young for me –”
“But I’m 18 and you’re only 24. It’s not that big of an age difference.”
“I know but to me, it is. What I was also going to say is that I have a girlfriend.”
“Larry told me but I thought he was just lying.” She said bitterly although her face was rather gloomy.
“Why would he lie to you?” Lau asked innocently, in a rhetorical tone. “You’re going to make some guy very happy someday but you’re so young. You should just enjoy your birthday and enjoy being 18 for now.”
Glumly, she shook her head in denial. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. These weren’t the words he was supposed to say. She’d never been refused anything in her entire life and her wheel of fortune surely wasn’t about to stop spinning now. The hurt sank in, throwing embarrassment and ridicule laced daggers at her with every passing second he stood there motionless. A small anxiety prickled her scalp, flushing her of color and pride. Larry had used her but at least he’d wanted her and she could see it in his eyes, feel it in his touch and absorb it from his kiss. He’d tricked her with a selfish spell of lust and she’d fallen for it. Between the betraying intrusion of his deed and the sad realization of her unrequited crush, she began to sniffle unaware that she was already crying. Lau was closer to her now, rubbing her back and holding her against him. She hadn’t meant to latch on to him but his scent was familiar even though it was the closest they’d ever been. His scent was like an after wash of a pungent mix of vanilla, honey and dewberry. A reminiscent seduction as if it was a pleasant dream invoking the heart of her fondest memories. Her tears dried and soon replaced another strong feeling.
She looked up and admired the vein in his neck, her eyes sweeping across the skin on his collarbone above the neckline of his black Comme des Fuckdown t-shirt. Without thinking, her hand snaked around his neck and she kissed the vein at first before biting it softly. She licked her lips as she looked up and saw his mouth, pouty and dark plum in color, easing hers onto his. He didn’t reject her at first, accepting her desperate plea and attempt to change his mind. The trail of soft kisses had a demulcent impact on his senses, including those in the erogenous area. But he remembered why he’d turned him down in the first place and slowly recoiled from her embrace. She stopped him with a longing gaze that exacerbated the already tense situation.
“Please.” She whispered. Looking back at her, he was full of honest hesitation. Apart from the age and status difference, she truly was a sight to behold. The longer he stood there, the closer the shadow of indecision seemed.
Sinners and Saints,
This party is going to give me so much more than I could’ve ever dreamed of. I’m so happy that I’ve written you all a cautionary haiku.
Temptation, temptation. The poison of sin.
What a predicament you’ve put yourself in.