Susan’s friends who lived out of state, puzzled at how she could not spend every spare second of her free time, at The Las Vegas Strip – ‘The Playground for Adults.’ What her friends didn’t know, and what locals learned quickly, was how The Strip was a veritable magic act, inside the superficial circus tent of society. The veneer of elegance duped the middle class into playing make-believe. Even just for a night, they felt they could belong to the upper echelon of society. More often than not, the lonely tourist playing pretend at wealth and status left the dry desert town with an empty bank account and broken spirit. Such was the game the middle class played, and such was the prey upon which Vegas feasted and kept its belly full.
North of The Strip the landscape was more residential and local business-oriented. A more “normal” suburban territory if one could even attempt at using that word to describe anything in the Las Vegas valley. Tourists simply didn’t visit this area.
Susan sat on a barstool in an upscale business hotel north of the Las Vegas Strip. Her precinct was south of The Strip, where she worked the night shift. She wanted anonymity tonight, somewhere to get lost in the crowd. To be alone, but not be alone. In the expansive Las Vegas valley, it was easy enough to make yourself invisible.
Staying home alone again, surrounded by the quiet solitude of her depression, trying to force thoughts of her ex-lover, Andrea, out of her head, thoughts of her brother James who had been deceased not even two years yet, seemed unbearable. The claustrophobia of loneliness was too great to bear. At present, she felt sick of people, the tired betrayal of humanity using one another, like steppingstones to some crude invisible structure in the sky, clamoring to get ahead, not caring who they crushed beneath them to put themselves on top.
James had been betrayed and paid with his life.
Andrea had betrayed her. Dismissing an eight-year relationship without ceremony or sustenance.
Susan had just bought ‘The’ ring too.
With a huge romantic weekend planned, she was going to pop the question. But Andrea leaving her hit Susan like an oil tanker falling out of the sky. It hit her harder than she cared to admit and left a mess she still hadn’t cleaned up.
One evening at dinner, only days before their getaway, Andrea lifted her fork to her mouth, then lowered it and said in a clinical tone like that of a doctor informing you that you had a wart that could easily be removed, “I think we should separate.”
Susan choked on her wine, so stunned she could barely get out the word, “What?”
“It’s just not working, Susan. I think we both need to acknowledge that the chemistry between us is gone.”
Sure, Susan had felt the apathy of routine creep into their relationship, but that’s why she’d planned the getaway. She had to finagle the time off and dip into her savings, but she was sure they just needed to get that spark fired up again. Doing something spontaneous was a sure-fire cure in her mind.
The rest of the evening, Susan put up a valiant effort to fight for their relationship. However, the more she pleaded her case, the more Andrea turned the tables on her. By the end of the discussion, Susan was left feeling as if she were being petty over a squabble about something as mundane as their dinner choices for the evening, rather than fighting for an eight-year relationship that seemed to be crumbling around her.
She learned later on why Andrea was willing to walk away as casually as someone pushing their chair away from the table when they’ve finished dinner. While Susan had been planning to save their relationship, Andrea had already moved on and found someone else to cure their relationship woes.
It wasn’t just relationship problems either that had her feeling numb and shutdown.
What she had told Tyrone had been true, she and James had grown up in Oakland, and they were a classic case kids from the hood. Dad was a tool in a petty crime syndicate, and Mom was never around, on and off the needle. They barely managed to make ends meet.
James had taken care of her for most of her childhood. Then misfortune rained down on them like lead bullets, and they could barely seek cover. Dad had been jailed, mom died of an overdose, they’d found themselves on the street, and then ended up in the system.
When she told that kid she was lucky; he had no idea how ‘Lady Luck’ had favored her indeed. Foster care in most depressed areas usually proved to be worse than a kids’ home life. For some reason, the siblings had not only been lucky enough to be taken in by someone who genuinely cared, but they had not been separated either.
The woman who had taken them in called herself, Aunt Sara. An older woman, who’d never had kids, had also been a product of the system. She’d gotten out of school, learned about computers and finance in the 80s, and had a knack for penny stocks. She made a fortune and started a foster care house in her middle-aged years. Even rarer still, Aunt Sara preferred to take in older kids with a mission to guide them towards a better course of self-reliance. Steering them simultaneously away from the lure of street life temptations, which promised easy work and riches with minimal struggle.
Sara had encouraged James to go into law enforcement. He’d been hesitant, but she said with the problem of police brutality and minorities still struggling to make their voices heard, he could make a difference. They’d never had a mentor. They’d never had anyone who cared. James trusted Sara, and he did, in fact, love his work.
Susan saw this and followed in James’ footsteps. First to make her brother proud, then over time, slowly developing a cause of her own, for kids like Tyrone.
Then, James had fallen in the line of duty only eighteen months before Andrea brought down the ax on their union. Andrea had argued that Susan ‘had changed after her brother’s death, and she couldn’t deal with her “moping” around anymore.’
It was a low blow for Andrea to use that as justification for cheating. When Susan had time to process the exchange of that night, she realized Andrea had done it because it would silence Susan’s protests. Susan had already felt guilty that her brother’s death had disrupted every aspect of her life, and Andrea used that against her. If Andrea had wanted Susan so bitter, she wouldn’t try to coax Andrea back, it had worked.
To make matters worse after the break-up, Susan attempted, with disastrous results, to get a fresh start. She found herself a little apartment as far away from Andrea as she could. The distance doubled her commute, making it over an hour one way. Eventually, she put in to transfer from one precinct to another. She’d had to take a demotion and work nights again. A good chunk of the night crew officers were misogynistic assholes.
She hadn’t had to deal with that in her home precinct on the other side of the valley. She’d thought of transferring back, but her pride inhibited her from eating crow with her buddies back “home.” They were a great group of guys, who didn’t care that she was a woman, or gay, or black.
They treated her and the two other female officers like one of their own – like they belonged. They’d thrown her a going-away party even though she’d only be about an hour across the valley from them.
She sipped slowly at her cocktail, letting the vodka work its magic, like a sweet song coursing through her bloodstream, the notes easing her tension. She felt her muscles loosening up. There was a jazz singer on the piano, crooning out old Sinatra tunes. He wasn’t half bad, but she was more of a Nina Simone kinda gal. Maybe she’d go over and put in a request at some point, really see how skilled a jazz musician he was.
She’d dressed up a bit, only for herself. She wasn’t looking to hook up tonight. Her distaste for other humans at the moment was bordering between disdain and hatred. She just needed a change of scenery with anonymity. Just something to distract her, that was all.
She’d applied a bit of light makeup to her smooth ebony skin. She wasn’t a great beauty, but neither was she ugly. She had pulled her shoulder-length hair back in a bun, put on a pair of simple gold hoops, and threw on a pair of black slacks and her favorite burgundy blouse, which accented her figure nicely. She knew heels would help her vertically challenged stature, but walking around in such insensible shoes, even off duty, wasn’t her thing.
She’d just finished up her drink and was about to order another when a gorgeous Hispanic woman, seated herself slowly on a bar stool, only one seat over. The woman looked older than Susan by about a decade, maybe forty-five, but she had a perfect voluptuous figure. The skin-tight red dress and very high heels accentuated every sexy curve. Despite Susan’s downright resistance to notice or be noticed, this woman made her sit up and stare.
Susan, not unlike many other lesbians, immediately made a snap judgment with a woman she found herself attracted to. Her mind asserted – not gay.
The woman ordered a drink from the bartender, then as if on cue, hearing Susan’s thoughts, she brazenly turned her head to face Susan, and flashed a cocky smile.
Susan didn’t blush, but she could feel her face grow hot. She gave the woman a thin, wan smile and quickly turned back to her new drink the bartender had just set down.
Nope! She wasn’t doing this. Not tonight, it was her night to be alone, nursing her drink, and wallow in the mire of self-pity her life had become.
Susan pulled out her phone and opened her Instagram app. She began to scroll through the feed when she started at a woman’s voice – the woman’s voice, “Is this seat taken?” She had a lovely voice, with a hint of an accent. The woman had already moved down and seated herself next to Susan.
“Oh, no. I’m here alone,” Susan said.
The woman flashed a wolfish grin.
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