Miss America Woke Up With Blackface and Redface Stains On Her Breasts, And Was Like, Whatever

[photo by the author]

The paler boy stood in the center of the room and pulled his shoes off, one at a time, and as he bent over he worried he was showing his ass to Miss America. He’d picked the worst boxer briefs to wear that night, his laundry day pair. The elastic had lost its will to live and gapped badly across the top of his buttocks. He never expected to take off his costume in front of anyone, let alone strip down for a threesome. When he pulled off the second shoe he said a silent prayer he wasn’t making an ass of himself.

He’d already ripped-off his NBA warm-up pants, tugged the snaps apart with a sudden jerk of both arms. They’d all laughed at how the lower half of his costume tore away from his body. But he hadn’t really thought it through past that. The move left him standing there in his saggy old boxers with his shoes still on. Lucky for his pride, when he glanced back to check, Miss America wasn’t watching him take off his Jordans. She was busy making out with his frat bro. He still couldn’t believe their luck.

Somehow they’d found a hot girl who wasn’t intoxicated to the point she was too drunk to consent. She’d actually and fully consented in front of witnesses that she was down to have a threesome with them, wanted to, that night. And now, here she was. Here they all were. And she was going through with it. What astounding luck for a pair of frat bros to come-up like that. Especially, these days. What luck, indeed. As he lifted his shirt up over his head he wondered if he looked silly in his deconstructed Young Michael Jordan blackface costume.

He looked at the way smeared redface makeup segmented his frat bro’s body, it made him look like a toy doll with mismatched head, limbs and torso. He was also wearing a feathered headdress. Neither of them had applied their makeup beyond where their bare white skin was covered by their costumes. Before, they just looked racist. But now, half-painted and naked, they looked both racist and ridiculous.

He looked down at his own arms, painted black with the blackest face paint he could find. But his chest and abs were still pale. The difference looked funny to him. Judging by how his frat bro looked, he knew he definitely no longer resembled a Young Michael Jordan; now he just looked like a naked drunk white boy in blackface. Not the world’s sexiest look. But none of that seemed to matter to Miss America. As clownish as both of the frat bros looked, Miss America was still down for their threesome. Since he’d been pretending to be Young Jordan all night, perhaps some of that imagined swagger had rubbed off on him. Whatever it was, it felt good. He felt Black, as he imagined it.

The white boy in blackface pulled off his boxers, let them sag past his knees and fall around his feet. He stepped out of his underwear and joined his frat bro. Miss America felt his weight on the bed; she turned from making out with his frat bro to look at him. Just as stunning as she was when he first saw her walk into their frat house with her friends. She smiled, no, she leered at him. Like he was her snack. Then she pushed her face forward and kissed him. When she pulled back from their long, slow kiss, some of his makeup was on her face, streaked with red from his frat bro, now smeared with black from him.

“I got my blackface on you, sorry about that. I hear that shit’s dangerous,” he said, trying to make a joke.

It worked. Miss America laughed, and said it better come off. He promised it would, then kissed her again.

When she pulled back from their kiss, he asked, “Is it okay if I film this, the camera’s way over there, you can barely see us–”

“If this ends up on a porn site, I will totally sue you,” she warned with a glare.

He started to laugh. But she stopped him, and said, “I’m not kidding. I will totally sue the shit out of you. I’m not joking. At all. My father’s a lawyer. My mother is, too.”

“No, never,” he reassured her, “I would never do that — I respect women way too much to do that. Ever. I just wanted it for me, for posterity — it’s way over there, you can’t even see us,” he said, repeating himself.

“Okay, I don’t care, as long as you can’t see my face,” she said, laughed, and then undid her bra. She tossed it over where her dress and her Miss America sash were now piled in the corner. The three naked college kids clumsily entwined their limbs and did a very pale impression of something they’d only seen before in porn.

The twisted mess of limbs and breasts and boners paused, in mid-action. Their bodies became a frozen scene. More accurately, a freeze-frame of a video.

Now they were sloppy statues. Motivated by a hunger they couldn’t name. Caught in their act. Frozen like a mythic curse. Their faces were indeed visible, even in the low light of the frat bro’s room.

There was the naked white boy in redface, still wearing his fake Indian headdress. There was the naked white boy in blackface, feeling so ridiculous and unsexy in his partial makeup job. And there was naked Miss America, also white, curled around and betwixt both of them, very much living inside her own fantasy.

“I don’t think we need to see the rest,” the boy in blackface’s father said.

He was a decent man who wasn’t going to stomach anymore indecency than he had to. The irony that the source of this indecency was his son, and therefore, ultimately, him, was lost on him.

“Please turn it off,” he calmly, politely ordered.

With a press of the remote, the screen blinked-off. It transformed from his son’s sex tape into a cool, plasticine black mirror, hazily reflecting the people in the room. Father, mother, college son and image consultant. The father spoke into the awkward silence.

“In my son’s defense, I’m just wondering here…How can it be racist if they’re having sex with Miss America? I mean, she’s white. If Miss America was fucking them, like if she was…Mr America, and they were two white girls in blackface and dressed up like an Indian chief, then I could see how they might say things––Mr. America would be racist. But they’re the ones fucking Miss America. That’s every boy’s dream! Isn’t that the sort of diversity people want to see these days? I just don’t get it. What’s the big deal? This is just harmless kid’s play–” he was interrupted by his wife.

“It’s just boys being — ” but she was interrupted, too.

“ — being boys? Don’t say that. Don’t even think that. Nobody says that anymore, for what it’s worth. So, yeah, that sentiment won’t cut it,” Roxanna, their image consultant said, quick to summarize the scene for the parents who still failed to grasp the danger to their son, but knew it was grave enough to hire her.

They’d been smart to hire Roxanna to tell their son’s story to the national media and help smother the flames of outrage threatening to consume their son and his best friend. But they weren’t ready to listen to her. That was dumb, and that was also a problem for her.

“That idea, that rationale, that boys make dumb mistakes––no matter how you want to phrase it––it doesn’t work so well these days. Not with this. Your son and his friend — they face expulsion from school, social ostracization, death threats, because this is a big deal. Your son is all over the internet, wearing a seriously racist Halloween costume, and it isn’t even Halloween. It’s just a frat party. I’m not going to ask the obvious question: why the hell would you do that? Instead, I’m just going to remind you that this will be a costly problem. Look, this sex tape is not the real issue, like not at all. This is the only copy, right? The upload has been deleted. All that’s out there online is the screenshots. That plays to our strength — lack of context. And thank god you got that girl’s consent.”

“Well, we raised our son right,” the boy in blackface’s mother said, quick to defend her youngest son.

“Yeah, okay. Now it’s my job to get America to agree with you,” their well-paid image consultant said with a pert and confident smile. Roxanna used the size of her fee to bite her tongue and to remove any snark from her tone.

She disliked these people. She would work for them, she would rent them the full benefit of her unique skill set, but she certainly despised them and their way of life. But this however did not stop her from being accepting and cashing their checks, and help keep their son from losing all they’d hoped and dreamed for him. And invested in him.

“You’ll take the gig?” the boy in blackface’s father said.

The pair of white boy frat bros in racist makeup offered their painted bodies to Miss America for her pleasure. She took them on, each of them acting like players in their own fantasies. They pumped and humped, like furious hot-blooded amateurs, their limbs tangled in a clumsy dance of intent, her body daubed with patches of red, besmirched with black makeup. as she twisted and writhed atop one and then the other. Sloppy sex, made awkward by all the extra limbs, the ten male appendages all trying to touch her body, yet at the same time the two men trying not to touch each other.

Each frat bro kissed her, in turns, their faces sweaty, so that stains of racist makeup rubbed-off and the white boys’ pale undercoats shined through. They all grabbed and pushed into one another, they choked each other, pulled hair, she slapped one of ’em, then she slapped the other. They grinned, waiting to be slapped again. And somehow, onscreen, none of it looked sexy.

Sam laughed as he watched it. His long brown fingers moved to pause the video on his laptop, he tapped a button, and watched their sex tape play in reverse. It looked even clumsier. Definitely funnier. Like they were trying to un-fuck one another.

“No, no, no, c’mon, look back — it looks like they’re un-inventing the threesome,” Sam said. It was all hilarious to him.

“This is disturbing,” his boss said, not looking at the screen. “Don’t make me watch college kids screw, it just feels gross.”

“It looks like Al Jolson and a cigar store wooden Indian had a threesome with Miss America. I’m telling you, this is the best!” Sam said, staring at their twisted bodies paused in mid-action on his laptop screen. “This story writes itself, I can’t believe his friends posted this on an unprotected server. White boys are wild.”

“You’re going to authenticate this video before we run anything, correct?” his boss said, focused on the paperwork before him. “Who’s Al Jolson?”

“Already had it authenticated. It’s the real deal. The upload originated from Blackface’s phone. He sent a text to my source from his verified number discussing it. I guess I did hack the server to get the video before they deleted, I did do that. Is that bad? I just logged on, guessed at the password from what his frat bro told me, and boom, there it was in their group feed, I downloaded the video from their dumb private frat group page thing, you know. That should stand-up in court. It was reasonably discoverable,” Sam reported back.

“Okay. Name ’em. Run with it. Goes out tomorrow. Don’t get too preachy with this one. We have a bombshell get — this is great. They all have the pics, and we have the video. You did good, Sam. Now please, just stick to the facts. No editorializing. As you said: this story tells itself. No one needs you to tell us how to feel about it. Got it?” his boss said, finally looking up from his meeting notes. “Who’s Al Jolson?”

“But do you — do you really know how to feel about it?” Sam asked.

“I think most Americans would react the same way to this video, about the way I just did. It’s simple: it’s gross,” his boss offered.

“You wanna bet?” Sam countered. “A hundred says you’re wrong, if I tell it straight.”

“What’s the bet? That most Americans won’t care about two kids in racist costumes who have a threesome with a girl in a Miss America costume? Yeah, I’ll take that bet. Every time. They’ll be outraged on many levels.”

“No. You’re not hearing yourself though. You’re Korean. I’m Black. We see something different when we watch this. White Americans? They’ll care, they’ll click. They’ll watch the tape. They’ll read my story. You’ll get your traffic. But they won’t really care about the racism, the dark desire that underlies their racist costumes. They won’t be outraged. They’ll care more about the sex tape. Just watch.”

“How can you say that? Please don’t moralize on this one,” his boss urged. “Just string together the facts we know. Tell us how they relate to each other. We have the goddamn video. What do you need to add?”

“You’re kidding right? Al Jolson is how I can say that. American history is how I can say that,” Sam said, but then he remembered who he was speaking with, his boss, he changed his tone and tact, “But just look at ’em, look at those faces. I think white people in America are becoming numb to blackface. That dude is still the governor of Virginia, isn’t he? And redface? In a country where a football team in the nation’s capitol is a racist slur of Natives? You kidding? They will not be outraged. They don’t see what we see. The word Redskins is like a slap in the face every time I hear it, and I’m not even Native. But even well-meaning white people, they get used to hearing it. It’s like tradition now. And getting upset over blackface is just like a seesaw of online performance now. Nothing really happens. But white mainstream America will always love a sex tape.”

They both stared at the three faces on the screen — there was such a sinister glee in their frozen faces––the white boy in redface with his racist fake Indian chief headdress, the other white boy in his deconstructed Young Michael Jordan blackface costume, and then there was Miss America, and her blonde vanilla beauty smeared in blackface stains and painted with streaks of the redman’s bronze, she looked coked-out, boozed-up, and loving it. They all did. Quite the picture of Young White America they painted.

“You haven’t asked me what my angle is, yet,” Sam said.

“Is there an angle beyond, kids, please don’t ever do this,” his boss asked, his attention returned to his paperwork.

“It’s simple. Racism is a basically a fantasy, right? It’s this pleasing fantasy, always has been, always will be––boom! That’s my angle.”

“That’s your angle,” his boss asked, without looking up. “Racism is a fairytale?”

“No, there’s, um, more. It’s designed to be a feel-good fantasy. And like, I think all our recent cultural attention on race and racism is going to like, fetishize it, sexually,” Sam said. “I think white kids are getting turned on by racism…in bed. They wanna play with those power dynamics. Forbidden is fun. Look at that NBA star. What’s his name, Porzingis? He was calling that Black woman his slave, his Black bitch, while he allegedly raped her. And she wasn’t a sex worker, she was his neighbor in his fancy skyrise building. Not that a sex worker deserves that––but you know what I mean. They were social equals, money-wise. I’m telling you, it’s gonna be a thing, a dark ugly thing, but a thing.”

“Racist fetishism… is fueling… drunken frat orgies? Seems a bit dramatic,” his boss said.

“I wouldn’t call that an orgy. Orgies are fun, sexy. Orgies involve more people. And no one wears racist costumes. Okay, I’m not so sure about that last part. In fact, I’m probably wrong now that I think about it, for more than a second. But I bet…we’ll see more college kids make copycat racist sex tapes soon, because, you know, it feels good to be bad,” Sam said.

“Racism is a fantasy…and it’s a growing kink…because it feels good, even though they know it’s bad, that’s what makes it feels good…because being bad feels good?” his boss asked, not really seeking an answer. “Okay, run with it. But who’s Al Jolson?”

“You’re not kidding? I assumed you were kidding,” Sam said, as he folded his laptop shut, swept it from his boss’s desk, and walked out. “Google him. Watch a video.”

Her cellphone balanced precariously on the edge of her marble bathroom vanity countertop. It was the only way she could speak on a phone, these days, it had to be hands-free.

Plus, the only clients of hers who typically wanted to speak with her on the phone were Boomers, like the parents of her current client, the last son of rich and aged parents. Long ago, Boomer speech patterns lost all their charms on her. She’d been raised on their bullshit. Fertilized by it. As a girl she was taught to revere them, and their cultural high-water marks, made to watch and listen to their cultural products, to worship at their self-erected shrines of self-importance, and now, she’d lost all patience for them and their cultural values. As far as she was concerned, they were now in the way. And they needed to move. The trouble was they paid so well, probably since they still had most all the money. That meant, just like her lawyer brother, she didn’t feel like she got to pick her clients. She let money talk and tried to ignore it when her clients did.

This made phone calls difficult. Being on speakerphone was a necessary rescue for her. She no longer had to have a Boomer in her ear. She could do something else, anything else, as yet another client’s parents droned on in their worried tones of self-regard. And she’d listen, she’d imagine how much of their money she could liberate from them and what their money would buy her, and she’d do things like what she was doing at the present moment: pick out an outfit for her date later that night. That was her real focus. She labored to be in the moment. A fleeting feeling.

She walked past her phone, two scarves in hand, trying to pair one or the other with the skirt she intended to wear later that night. But she stopped in mid-thought, in mid-step, returned her full attention to her cellphone. She needed to bring their phone conversation to a full stop, for dramatic effect.

“Wait! You cannot say that your son and his best friend are victims of a lynch mob. Like, you. can. not. say. that. Not ever, not to the press, not in a Facebook post, not even to your oldest friends. You can not use that word, or compare it to that. The minute you do, I will quit,” Roxanna said, wanting to make an indelible mark.

“But I can, and I will. Because that’s exactly what’s happening here. We can’t sit back and let them do this to my boy. They have their pitchforks out for my boy. It’s an online lynch mob. You never think they’ll come for you, or your family. My boy’s no racist. He doesn’t have any racism in his heart. I’ve known him his whole life. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. These are cruel people. They’re the ones attacking him. They’re out there, trying to ruin his whole future, take it all away, all that’s he earned, everything we invested in him, and why? Because of some makeup? They’re just making a big deal of all this because they can use it as a chance to take down a rich white boy. I see what they’re doing. America isn’t safe for white boys anymore. But no, I ain’t gonna let them get my son. Nope. That’s not happening to my boy. So you do whatever you have to, do whatever you need to, but you make sure people knock it off with all this online lynching of my son,” the boy in blackface’s father said. Defiantly repeating himself for effect. The emotion had risen and finally cracked in his voice.

Roxanna heard it — the unmistakable sound of a man who fears he can’t protect his family. She stood in place, staring at her reflection in her vanity, just a step or two outside of her walk-in closet. It was one of life’s little pleasures she’d learned to give herself and be okay with because of how much joy a walk-in closet brought her. It was how she imagined some people felt about a convertible car. To her a walk-in closet wasn’t just an adjective to modify what type of closet it was, a walk-in closet was a lifestyle. She’d become quite accustomed to hers. That helped her bite her tongue on evenings like this one. Her reflection seemed to agree. She looked at herself, there in the mirror, staring back at her, and she felt deeply relieved that she thought of herself as Macedonian-American, and not as a white person. It freed her, so much. She gathered-up her irritation, went back to work. Roxanna heard herself start to speak.

“You’re overthinking this. Just promise me you won’t say the word lynching. I need you to understand that is definitely a racist thing to say. I don’t need you to make this any worse. Any harder. This is about the posted pics. They’re all over Twitter, all over Facebook. That means people are trying to dox you, your son, your family, look for old posts on social media, that is once they know who you all are, because they will, especially, once your family comes forward on national TV. And your son tells the world his real name. So, if you have any old racist Facebook posts, Pepe memes on LinkedIn, or whatever else, you need to delete those, like, as soon as we get off this phone call. I mentioned it earlier, but it’s now a priority. Okay. I’ll see you in the green room tomorrow. You have the address, parking instructions, so, just meet me in the green room. The Good Morning America pages will show the way to where I’ll be. Sound good?” she asked.

But she knew his answer already. Of course it was good. Roxanna knew that down deep most everyone loves to be on TV. The boy in blackface’s father certainly knew the details for his son’s date with a morning talk show, even if he acted gruff. He wanted his son to be on tv, to get to tell his side of the story. She just hoped he’d listened to the rest of what she’d told them.

Gwen Stefani singing “I’m Just A Girl,” bumped from the speakers inside the Toyota Prius as it wended its way through evening New York traffic. Roxanna hadn’t heard the song in forever and a day. It was a carefree distraction from her day and a nice segue into her evening. She’d agreed to the date, but still was reticent to go. The fact he’d promised that they wouldn’t talk about what they do for a living was the only reason she’d agreed to go. She didn’t want to talk about her job, about her clients, about what she’d found herself doing with her comparative literature degree. She just wanted to be wanted, for a night. To be a girl in the world, as Gwen Stefani sang. She didn’t even like this song, but it felt good in the moment.

She’d already made the mistake of telling her Lyft driver what she did for a living. She’d further ruined small talk by explaining her latest clients, and what a headache they were for her. The Lyft driver was a Filipina mother, in her late 40s, her voice was kind but her attitude was unexpected. She had opinions on the pictures she’d seen on Facebook, the stills from the video that the public had yet to see. And she still hoped would never see. The driver also had opinions about the frat bros in blackface and redface and their threesome with the young woman in the Miss America costume. Her opinions were loud.

The Lyft driver talked over the No Doubt track, and said, “Just me, but I think they should leave those kids alone. They’re stupid, but, like, still, leave ’em alone. You know?”

This was not the reaction to a racist sex tape that she expected her driver to have. The middle-aged Filipina mother explained why she was so quick to overlook the threesome’s transgression. “They don’t know what is in those boys’ hearts.”

“They?” she asked, curious where her Lyft driver was going with this.

“The media — with their bias. Like, I’m not like the president, or nothing, I don’t think they’re all the Fake News, or whatever he says. But I know they’re not always telling me the truth. And they like to focus on stories like this one because they make a lot of money off the times when they can make everybody all mad and hate on each other. They want us fighting, it’s good for their wallet. That’s all I see. Like, why don’t they just do their job? Tell me what happened in the world today.”

“How so?” she asked, now genuinely curious if this was an argument she could employ.

“Like, how they are gonna be talking about these white kids that made a dumb mistake — instead of talking about what’s happening in Brazil, in China, or Turkey, or where I’m from, the Philippines. It’s terrible what’s happening in my country. But I never see anything about that on the news. Just stuff like these dumb white kids. What do you think affects me more? These rich frat boys having a racist threesome––or whatever you wanna call it––or what Duterte is doing? These white boys will be fine, but no one cares about what’s happening to my people. What he’s doing right now. He’s a real villain.”

“That’s so true,” Roxanna said, both in genuine human reaction and with a cunning anticipation of how she could use her Lyft driver’s words in dark service of her clients.

It was both a good and a not at all good feeling. She didn’t ask another question. Guilt kept her silent, but she couldn’t un-hear what she’d already heard. Instead, she turned her attention back to the window and stared out at the world blurring past. The city was all fuzzy lights.

“I’m just a girl in the world…” Gwen Stefani sang, but Roxanna was no longer listening to her pop falsetto. Now she was thinking of Duterte and the Philippines, and how he might help save her client.

The waiter hovered over his table like a UFO waiting for his drink order. But he already had a drink. It was a ruse. Sam and the waiter were busy, in mid-conversation, both men taking turns waiting for the other to stop talking, so they could respond.

“But it’s not racist,” the waiter demanded.

“How can you even say that?!” Sam said, his words fast on the heels of the word racist.

“Because it’s not,” the waiter said, just as quickly.

“The one kid is in blackface. The other kid is in redface, in what world is that not — ”

“So what?” the waiter said, not waiting for him to finish.

“The dude was wearing a headdress, the whole time they’re fucking he kept adjusting it so it didn’t fall down over his eyes. He wants to be some Indian chief fucking Miss America!”

“Wait, the headdress isn’t in the pictures I saw online,” the waiter lowered his voice to not call any extra attention from the other diners or waitstaff buzzing about the restaurant. The place wasn’t full, by any count, but there were a few stations that had more filled tables than empty ones. The dinner rush was winding down.

“You saw pics, but I’ve seen the actual sex tape. Within my own two eyes. I have it. And bruh, that shit’s racist as David Duke’s dick.”

“Or John Mayer’s,” the waiter added, with a laugh.

“Or John Mayer’s dick. Right. But like, if you saw it — Miss America ends-up all smeared with the white boy’s makeup, with their body paint. All rusty red. Shoe polish black. She looks like a political cartoon of American history. Once you see it, you’ll agree with me that it’s overtly— ”

“But whatever they did, it was just a fantasy. All of it. You said Miss America consented. It wasn’t sex assault. So it’s just a couple kids having fun–”

“–in racist makeup. Why do white people always wanna wear our skin? It’s creepy,” Sam said, hoping to establish lateral solidarity with his Puerto Rican waiter.

“Do you wanna police what people do in their bedrooms? Is that it? That’s the whole problem with the Left and people like you in the media. You’re just as much of a prude as the Religious Right. Like, I want both sides to stay out of my bedroom, you know? My lady don’t want you in there, either.”

“I know. But that’s not what this is.”

“Then what is it?”

“I guess that remains debatable,” Sam said, but his attention had wandered.

He saw her come in. He was certain it was her. The waiter noticed his shifted focus and casually turned to see what Sam was looking at, and caught her entrance as well. Neither man spoke.

She glided into the restaurant like a cloud of curls. Her hair was bouncy, which was one thing she liked about her hair. Unmanageable as it was, it had life. Her eyeglasses were thick and black. Distinctive. It made her look like she owned an art gallery, or her best friend did. She walked with purpose, a distinct counterbalance to the light bounce of her dark hair. The way she moved with such strident effort also gave her clothes a life of their own. She preferred her fashion to be a similar mashup of energies — she liked tailored suits with flouncy blouses. She liked loose flowy dresses that pinched at the waist. For her date, she’d picked a knee-length skirt that moved when she walked and a spring sweater that clung to her frame like a hug of fabric. Like a weighted blanket one could wear to a date. Like anti-anxiety nightwear.

The hostess led her to him, to his table. She spotted a man she assumed must be her date, seated at a table alone, but with a waiter standing waiting with him. She could see that he’d chosen to wear a button-down shirt, jacket, no tie. He’d gone with muted earth tones, but he didn’t look like a New Age venture capitalist. Instead he looked like his fashionable Italian cousin let him wear whatever he wanted to borrow from his summer wardrobe. And he’d picked well from his closet. Colors that flattered him, casually. A nice change; most men she’d dated recently dressed like Nordstrom mannequins. That was not her fault. Prior to that she’d almost exclusively dated musicians. Thank god she outgrew that.

As Roxanna approached, Sam stood up to greet her. The way he did it made it seem like a well-practiced move, yet one that appeared neither conscious nor forced. It was not to impress. It was a relaxed gentleman’s move, done with a natural disposition. From a distance it spoke well of his character. She liked it. And she liked that he was taller than the waiter standing with him, both men waiting for her presence. It wasn’t a bad entrance to a blind date.

She smiled as she said his name with the rising lilt of a question, “Sam?”

He replied, saying her name with the same questioning tone, “Roxy? I mean, Roxanna?”

“Roxy is fine,” she said as the waiter helped her with her chair. Once she was seated, the waiter went to check on some of the other tables in his section, ones he’d been long neglecting while he’d argued with Sam.

“Glad we finally did this,” Roxanna said, as she situated herself on her chair.

Sam eased back into his seat, “Definitely glad you were down to finally meet. I can only be charming over text for so long. Eventually, you will discover…I’m rather boring.”

“To be honest, I suspected as much. That’s why I’m here, to confirm my suspicions,” she said, punctuated with her second easy smile. “And for the lobster bisque. Hear it’s the best in town.”

“I figured that since we’re only going to see each other once, I’d make sure we get you the best bisque in town.”

“Such manners. You must’ve been raised right,” Roxanna teased.

“Quite the contrary,” Sam replied, catching her off-guard with his confident dismissal of her compliment, “I was raised thoroughly wrong. But I did manage to get squared away once I figured that out and I listened to a few people. Folks who knew better than I did what it was like to be them and then I listened long enough, until, finally, boom! I saw things differently. And I responded to the world differently. My expectations for others changed. I was able to get outside myself, be a little more empathetic, I got over how I was raised. But lord, mama tried.”

“Oh you’re one of those,” she said, her tone flat.

“One of what? A country music fan?” he said, certain he’d already turned her off. In record time.

“No, you’re…an ally,” she said, with withering disregard.

“God forbid, no. I’m not an ally. I’m just a — me. Lone agent. And…I’m okay with the fact I’m kinda fucked-up. But I try to be less so. Oh, and I’m bad with money. I don’t blow it, I just don’t care about it.”

“How charming,” she said, no hint to her meaning.

Shifting focus from him back to her, he asked, “Were you raised…right?”

“Yes, I was,” she said, offering no more information.

“How charming,” he said, offering his flirtatious imitation of her tone.

The waiter interrupted to bring them a basket of warm bread. It steamed as he set it down. It also gave the table the fragrance and warm feeling––a sense of home and hearth––that had been previously missing from the table.

They each reached for the bread. Their hungry fingers shaking just a little bit. He paused, held his hand back. Sam waited for Roxanna to select and tear off a hunk of bread. Once she had, he followed her lead, and tore off a hunk for himself from their shared loaf.

“Are you actively religious,” she asked, apropos of nothing.

“Am I what?” he asked, once he was done chewing.

“You know what all those words mean, I assume. So, do you, you know, practice a religion?”

“No, well, yes, sure. I go to church for and with my mama, a few times a year.”

“What church?” she asked, showing no signs if this was a good or a bad thing, or somewhere in between.

“Catholic,” he said.

“Ah, the big one,” she teased.


“I’m not Catholic,” she said, once again not really answering the question.

“What are you?” he continued.

“Not religious,” she answered, shutting the door on any easy follow-up question.

After they’d ordered their entrees and drinks, the waiter trekked off to the kitchen. Both Sam and Roxy continued to pick at the bread between them. He replaced the napkin, to cover the bread, and keep it warm for her next tear.

“When was the last time you had fun outside?” Sam asked.

“Did you read that online somewhere, like in a listicle of things to ask a woman on a date?”

“Do they have those?”

“When was the last time — this morning. I rode my bike through Central Park, the way I do, probably, four days a week, each morning.”

“Oh, so you’re one of those?” he asked, not revealing his intent.

“One of what — a cyclist?”

“No, routinized. You like to do the same cool thing you find, over and over again.”

“Do I?” Roxanna asked, challenging his self-assured assertion.

“I don’t know, do you?” Sam parried.

“So we agree, you don’t know,” she said.

“Yes, we agree on that,” he said, a smile curled in the corners of his mouth. “But we still need to discuss the fact you are a cyclist.”

“That a problem for you?” she asked.

He didn’t answer, instead, he stared deeply into her eyes, until they both felt uncomfortable for being so clearly seen.

When her soup and his salad arrived, they were each polite and waited until the waiter was done peppering Sam’s salad. Then he peppered her soup. But as soon as the waiter stepped away, both he and Roxanna set to eating with the devotion of winter-starved pilgrims.

“How’s your bisque?” Sam asked between bites of greens.

“Best in town,” she replied, with a smile born of the soup’s delicate flavors. Not too fishy, not too creamy, just right.

They made eyes at each other as they ate. Two kids playing the game of do you see me the way I see you because I want to see more of you. It stayed like that throughout dinner.

After they we were done eating, they ordered coffee and desserts. They settled into a comfortable rhythm of conversation, where it actually felt like what it was — a good first date.

“You said that your favorite new poet that you found recently was Hera Lindsay Bird. Honestly, that surprised me. That’s why I came tonight,” Roxanna said.

“Because I cited a poet who’s a woman, seems kinda shallow,” he teased.

“Well, you didn’t seem to play it like a card. I asked and you texted back right away, not enough time for Google, I liked that, most of all, it seemed honest.”

“That’s my biggest problem — I’m honest.”

“I hear that can be deadly,” she teased back.

“Especially, in my profession, they like to kill — oh sorry, right, we said — ”

“ — no shop talk. That’s the other reason why I’m here. You never tried to impress me with what you do for a living. You didn’t wear your job as your identity like most men do. And you seemed confident, not like you were secretly unemployed. Why did you want to come tonight?”

“I made that dumb little rule mostly because I didn’t want to talk about my job. People have opinions about what I do for a living.”

“Are you in politics?” she asked.


“Are you a prison guard?” Roxanna asked.

Sam didn’t even deign to answer that one other than with a sharp look of disgust.

She followed with her next guess, “Are you an abortion doctor?”

“What? No. Not that there’s anything wrong with — look, this game kinda sucks. We have our little rule, and it seems to be working fine. Let’s stick with it.”

“Okay, deal. Let’s never talk about work,” Roxanna said, with a playful grin.

“Deal. You wanna get out of here, go listen to some records? You like Dinah Washington?”

“I don’t really know her,” Roxanna confessed.

“What about bossa nova?”

“That, I love,” she said, with a quick lift of her voice.

“Let me get his attention,” Sam said, and looked past Roxanna for their waiter.

Most straight men lack such an obvious green thumb. Sam’s was on full display. Nearly everywhere she looked there was another pot filled with evidence of his ability to cultivate plant life. An array of shades and varieties of greens and collection of textures. Long thin yellow-spined leaves. Short frilly curled-up ferns. A sparse bush of perfect ovoid leaves. A short squat succulent, waxy and plump. A cactus, dry and threatening like a porcupine statue. It was almost overwhelming. Almost. Instead it stayed on this side of welcoming and homey.

“None of them are dying,” Roxanna said, not even a conscious thought, more like an exhalation of words.

He uncorked wine with a single steady pull of his hand. She watched his forearm flex, ever so. The cork eased out. He looked up at her.

“It’s because I mostly work from home. I can always water ’em. Plus, this place gets really–”

“–good light,” she said finishing his thought, admiring the big old windows.

“Yeah, exactly,” he said, agreeing with her casual observation. “Rent control.”

After he filled two glasses of wine, he arrayed some crackers, cheese, and ramekins of strawberries and blackberries on a wooden tray, and carried the tray over to the coffee table. Roxanna assessed his bookshelves. They were colored with the abundant spines of books, most haphazardly arranged, some standing, some stacked, the shelves looked well-used. No dust. She picked up a paperweight-sized Zimbabwean carved stone statuette — it was a fertility goddess, she assumed. Next to it was another stone statuette. It looked to be a Mesoamerican pre-Columbian version of the same idea. But it was a male fertility god. One deep green-grey, round, and smooth. The other orange, more decorative and sharp-cut.

“They don’t go together, at all,” Sam said, as he approached her from behind.

“No, they don’t. I figure this one’s from South Africa and this one’s from, like, I don’t know, Guatemala, or somewhere around there,” Roxanna said, still gazing at the paired statuettes.

“Close. Colombia. The round one’s from Zimbabwe,” he said, and then fell silent.

When she turned, she saw the wine glass he’d extended to her. She accepted it with a small smile. Beyond him, she saw the wooden tray of food. The music in the air was bossa nova, just as he’d promised. It was a nice moment, one she was slow to disturb with any action or reaction. She just let it linger an extra beat, then another. She didn’t move, she didn’t shift her eyes to the wineglass. She met his stare. They held a wordless moment together.

She hadn’t shared a moment like that in a long time. Apparently, neither had he. Neither spoke. They just searched for something in the eyes of the other. An ineffable thing, but one they’d know as soon as they spied it. And she did, it was there in the size of his pupils. A curious desire. He spotted the same in her open eyes, staring rather deeply into his. As if asking a question she didn’t yet want to voice.

“I actually prefer flamenco to bossa nova, typically, but this is nice,” she said, finally adding some words to their moment.

He let his silence answer her. But he raised his hand, a customary way to ask to dance. He held it before her, on offer. How long had it been since she’d last danced with a man, and not been at one of her friends’ weddings? His fingers were long, thick at the knuckle, the nails kept short. She accepted his offered hand and stepped into him. They set their wine glasses down.

The funny thing is that being bad dancers together can feel just as good as being good dancers together. It’s the together that matters most. Moving together in time, together through space, in coordination like earth and moon, it can feel like bopping through the heavens. That’s how he would’ve described it, in that moment.

He stepped, she stepped, they swirled left, together. He stepped into her, she stepped back with him, as they spun back right. Gliding, as if they’d been dancing together for days.

The song ended before either of them expected it. As the music started to disappear from the air, they stopped dancing. But they still held hands, standing still in the quiet, like a living statue of dancers. They’d both fallen into the eyes of the other, again. Neither spoke. The moment lingered, stretching out with anticipation and made poignant with its ache. Just eyes lost in eyes.

It was an idea they both held in their nervous heads. Only she acted on it. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against his. The kiss was returned. They pressed tight into one another as the next song began to play. When she pulled back from him, her eyes alive with one question: …are we going to do this? His answer was muscular. He bent at the knee and with one sweeping motion, he lifted her up into his arms, cradled against him. She laughed at his surprise answer to her unasked question, the one her eyes had posed. They were mostly past words now.

“Well,” she said, some of her laugh still coloring her voice.

“Well,” he said, a confident question in his.

“…Well,” she repeated, agreeing, but sounding more like they were doing a Meisner acting exercise.

He carried her from where they’d been dancing into his bedroom.

If either of them were being honest, or if say their truth was chemically-induced, they would’ve confessed that it was the best sex they’d had in at least five years. Perhaps seven. Okay, maybe ten. Just like how they’d danced across his wooden floor, they had moved equally well across cotton.

What they say about dancing is true. You rarely ever meet someone who’s good on a dance floor who is bad in bed. They’d surprised each other with their eager physical call and response. Their bodies fit together in that way that excites you to fuck again. And finally, after two hours of slow pleasure came to a furious biting scratching frenzy of rollicking hips and pulled hair they’d managed the near impossible for a one-night stand: they climaxed together.

And then they fell back into pillows. Breathing hard, hair matted to faces, faces glistened with delicious sweat, both spent and still shaking with tiny trembles of post-orgasmic glowing bliss. Best sex in ten years, at least. They laughed like partners in crime who’d just gotten away with a bank robbery. What else was there to say that their bodies hadn’t just expressed? The silence that followed wasn’t awkward, it was earned satisfaction.

As soon as she felt his leg twitch for the third time, she knew he’d fallen into sleep. It’s called the hypnagogic response. It’s a nervous release that signals that the brain is transitioning over to sleep mode. Three twitches of the body, and they’re out. Most everyone does it, some are more pronounced than others. But it’s typically at least three spastic muscle convulsions. You never notice you do it because you’re the one falling asleep. But someone lying in bed next to you will certainly notice it. It’s a reliable indicator for someone who’s in the habit of slipping-out once her partner is asleep. When Roxanna felt Sam’s left leg jerk for the third time, she got up.

She gathered up her clothing from where it had fallen or been tossed. She dressed with the silent motions of a ninja assassin. She re-composed herself. Tied her sex-messed hair up and back.

As quiet as she could, she washed her face. She was impressed he had clean washcloths in a tiny basket next to his sink. She re-applied her makeup, not a full face but just enough to feel fresh. She stepped out of the bathroom and looked to confirm she hadn’t woken him.

He was still out. Snoring lightly. It was kinda cute. But she didn’t stick around to watch him sleep, or anything like that. That would be weird. Instead, she made sure she had all the stuff she’d brought with her. After she checked off everything on her mental punch-list, she kissed two fingers and gently pressed them to his forehead. Certain she would never see him again. And then she walked out, easing the front door to his place tightly shut behind her.

He slept soundlessly, other than the thin soft sound of his nasal palette rattling with each breath. Other than that he slept deeply, the way the well-fucked do. It was a nice change. Normally, he slept fitfully.

Any time her morning Lyft driver didn’t want to talk she chalked it up as a tiny victory for her karma and a good omen for her day. Roxanna wasn’t typically superstitious, but she’d built an entire framework of beliefs and omens based on her interactions with her Lyft drivers. It was such a bizarre intimate relationship, impermanent, yet ultimately a life-dependent one. She entrusted her most valuable possession––her life and health––into the hands of a total stranger, based on the idea they would give her an inexpensive ride across town. Creating her own road theology was how she made it possible for her to trust so many random drivers as often as she did. She liked to tell herself it was just society in a miniature scale.

Generally, the best omen that Roxanna looked for was that her driver was a woman. She felt conflicted about the economic power imbalance between her and another woman, but she always felt safer in a woman’s car. This morning, she wasn’t thinking about income inequalities or her subsequent guilt, she was just thinking about his arms. She woke up wishing she’d stayed the night. She thought that that her desire had passed, that she got it all out of her system. But it was back. And it came in the form of a daydream about his arms. Being surrounded by them. She pulled out her phone and thumbed out a quick message:

last night was a surprise. a good one. thanks.

She hit send. Three hot seconds passed before she added:

had to work early. maybe again later this week

Send. But she felt weird, it should’ve been a more obvious question, she quickly added:


And then she put her phone away in her purse on her lap. Her face flushed with an embarrassed excitement. Romantic anxiety butterflied through her stomach. She had it bad, and she knew it. Damn it.

The buzzing phone woke him up. It was 6:30 am. Who the hell would be texting him at the god hour? He figured it must be his editor with some big breaking story, only he wasn’t in the mood for a big breaking story. He wanted to know why he was waking up alone.

Had he been snoring? Had he driven her from his bed with some embarrassing sleep behavior. Had he been grinding his teeth? Oh god, he thought. She seemed cool. As the words “Oh well” washed across his mind he pulled his phone from the bedside table.

Anticipation thrilled through him when he saw the texts from her number — he still had yet to save her in his phone under her government name, usually his first step, and definitely not a nickname, that would come way later, if it came at all. Yet the sight of her number sparked a bright charge inside him. He thumbed his code and read her messages.

The resulting smile came wide across his face and spread wider as he imagined seeing her later that week. Maybe, he thought. Then put his phone back down. He didn’t yet know how to respond, so he did what he did whenever he didn’t know what to do: he did nothing.

An hour later, after he’d eaten breakfast, shaved and readied for his day, just as he was about to leave to catch his subway train, he knew what he wanted to say. He pulled phone from pocket and texted:

dinner tonight, my place? 7ish?

The green room was abuzz with hair and makeup people, wardrobe people, and producer’s assistants. Roxanna sat on the arm of a couch as her client’s parents watched their son get his hair and makeup done for the morning tv show. Her mind was elsewhere. She typed out her response to Sam’s invitation:

see u tonight

She put her phone back away in her purse. Checked to see the progress the makeup artist was making adding a more tv-ready whiteness to her client’s face. She was amused by the tiny irony: he needed to look healthfully white to convince people he wasn’t a bigot. When her phone buzzed in her purse, her hope that it was him texting back caught her off-guard. And that warm satisfaction when it was him was even more of a problem. He’d texted back:

good luck on your big day

No boyfriend had ever thought to do anything like that before. And he wasn’t even a boyfriend. What kind of text was this for a hookup to send? But it wasn’t him texting that worried her most, it was how he had listened to her. And he’d remembered. And then he’d texted her about it the next day. Her big day.

One night stands were not supposed to be the most caring and supportive partner you’ve had in your life until that moment. It made her ache with sadness at her love life up until then. It made her angry that men had such a low bar in her mind that one thoughtful text could make her feel so many emotions. But mostly, it made her feel cared for, which as anxiety-causing as that could be, usually, it felt good. So she didn’t respond. She just felt that good feeling. And instead, she pushed her phone back down into her purse and hoped it didn’t buzz again.

Her client’s parents were staring at her. She worried they’d been talking at her and she missed it. Roxanna had a tendency to tune out voices when her ears felt overwhelmed, like the way they did sitting in the hair and makeup room. The parents’ expectant faces suggested they had said something and she missed it. She went with her gut.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you,” Roxanna said, she punctuated it with a friendly smile.

“We didn’t say anything,” her client’s father said. And then he shook his head a little bit. Quiet disdain.

“I think the producers are almost ready for us on the set, that’s what one of their helpers said a minute ago,” the mother offered to get things back on track.

“Is he all done?” Roxanna asked, indicating her client who still sat in the makeup chair, playing a game on his phone. He looked like a seven-year old in a suit, not like a college kid. Through the miracle of hair and makeup, aided by excellent wardrobe choices, he looked as innocent as the virgin in a teen comedy. You couldn’t imagine him saying the word sex out loud let alone doing it with another full-grown person. He was white innocence in a sweater, blazer and tie. And she was impressed.

“That’s incredible. You look like a ’50s tv show,” Roxanna said, knowing her job would be that much easier. She popped up from the arm of the couch and then crouched down low, even-eyed with her client. He didn’t look up from his game on his phone. She was used to that. Didn’t take it personally. She knew she could get his attention, or would. She started slow and low.

“The most important thing you will do in your life up until now is going to happen out there on that tv set. Your parents have done all they can do for you. They got you this far. We’ve discussed your rhetorical strategy. Good Morning America is a game, and you will win…if you stick to our game plan,” she said, her voice steady, authoritative.

He had looked up when she said “you will win.” And she’d held his attention. She continued to outline their strategy for handling the morning show’s high-on-sunshine hosts.

“What’s the most important thing? Remember: you do not say the word lynching. Right? We’ve discussed this. Do not call this a lynching. You will lose the plot and the public if you use that word. Just assert that this was consensual sex. This happened behind closed doors. What was the word I told you to use?” she interrupted to ask, but also to check if he was listening.

“Kinkshaming,” he said, by rote.

“Exactly. You keep using that any time you get stuck or you wanna say lynching. Got it?”

“Got it,” he nodded.

“You are three grown adults. You are college kids at a prestigious university. You were having consensual sex. Did you get dressed-up in costumes? Yes. Is that bad? If you were in public, yes. But not behind closed doors. No one saw it, no one would’ve been hurt by what you did, if someone hadn’t leaked screenshots from the video. Try not to say sex tape. Say video. And what was recorded in that video was just a harmless fantasy — some sexual role-play. You were just having harmless fun, making a sexual joke, meant only for the people in that room.”

“What about the fact that those were our costumes that we wore to the party?” her client asked, recalling what had really happened, as opposed to focusing on the story he was being prepped to provide.

“Don’t bring that up,” she said, trying to hide any exasperation. “Just don’t talk about that, and if anyone brings that up, just ignore it, and talk about what happened behind closed doors would’ve stayed there if someone wouldn’t have leaked screenshots, thus invading your privacy. Got it? Invading your privacy. Can you say it back to me?” she asked, not really wanting to hear him do it.

“I got it,” he said, with a less than encouraging head nod.

“And remember if you get stuck, just enlarge the question, reframe it. Why is this what the news wants to focus on? Why does your little story matter more than what’s going on in the Philippines under Duterte? Or you can pick another country you don’t like — Venezuela is an obvious choice these days. Go with that one. Say what about Venezuela, and what’s happening in the Philippines under Duterte, why am I more important that what’s happening around the world?” Roxanna coached him.

“What’s happening in the Philippines?” her client asked back.

“Exactly,” she said, somewhat satisfied at least that one had stuck. Her Lyft driver would be so proud.

“No, for real. What’s happening in the Philippines?” her client asked again, it was a honest question. He had no idea. “Who’s Duterte? Is he the king?”

“You’re up!” the harried producer’s assistant made the question academic. It was time. Millions of Americans were waiting to hear from the boy who made the racist sex tape and wore blackface with his frat bro in redface as they had sex with Miss America. The story was a racial tease on top of a sex tape. It had so many vectors to examine, so many ways to spark outrage. But at the moment it was just screenshots. On tv, he could provide the unseen context, her client could control the narrative.

America was prepared to hear his story, and then, also prepared to get in their feels about it. The morality of the tale was yet to be decided. It was up to this one scared college kid, dressed as a Mormon sweater model, to give America the story of his life. And whatever story he told would change the rest of his life. The course of it.

She looked in her client’s eyes and lied, “You’ll do fine. You got this. Just remember do not call this a lynching. If you get stuck: What about what’s happening in the Philippines? And what you did is just what a few consenting adults do behind closed doors. It’s just harmless fantasy.”

Sam had yet to leave his apartment. But he had made himself some breakfast and shaved. Those felt like accomplishments. He was still seated at his dining room table, picking at the uneaten berries, as he FaceTimed with his editor.

“I only took out three lines. This was really clean copy. Nice change for you,” his editor said.

“Only three? Which three?” he asked.

“Only the ones I couldn’t publish — either for legal or ethical reasons,” his editor said, his voice indicating he was ready to move on.

“Ethical reasons? Do tell,” Sam teased back between bites of berry.

“I had to cut the line where you said: Blackface is like forbidden dessert for white people, they know they shouldn’t enjoy it, but it just feels so good to be bad sometimes. White people really need better racial willpower.”

“What’s the ethical dilemma there? That’s accurate,” he said.

“We don’t want to be making fun of overweight readers, and that could be inferred as a fatphobic joke, it’s kinda judge-y” his editor said, matter-of-factly.

“Oh shit, didn’t think of that,” Sam said, embarrassed. “I also didn’t think of it as much of a joke.”

“I know, neither did I, it’s why I cut it.”

“What else got cut? You mentioned legal?” he asked.

“I left the kicker. That was a good line, but I had to cut the line above it when you said: All the spirits of murdered Indigenous elders and ghosts of wrongfully-killed Black ancestors should rise-up together and burn this country to the ground, so that we, The Living, would have to rebuild it, together, and honestly, this time. That was also a good line, a little violent, but mostly I’m sure activists groups would be all over us for that one. From both sides. It’s strong, but it’s also kinda clumsy. No one needs you inciting actions like that. It’s a call to action, even if you’re trying to summon ghosts for revenge. Can’t publish calls for violent actions like that.”

“Okay, that’s fair. But could you imagine that?”

“No, I can’t. But good thing is: I don’t have to.”

“So where are we with it? Are you about to hit publish, or what? You told me the lines you cut, I’m okay with them. Let’s get this world-shaker out there.”

“Art’s in. We’re good to go. Video embed looks incredible. Still don’t know how you got that tape. Do you think the frat knows you have it? Can they see that you downloaded it?”

“I have no idea. That’s on his frat bro. That dude liked my money more than he cared about the oath they’d taken as brothers.”

“Another reason I never trusted fraternity guys, although they were different when I was in school,” his editor said.

“No they weren’t. They were always the same,” Sam said. “Okay, let’s do it. Smash that publish. I wanna shake the shit out of this kid’s world.”

“Pretty sure this story is going to be huge. Hope you’re ready to be on morning tv,” his editor said. He’d returned to teasing his star reporter.

“I don’t have to be ready. I won’t go. You think anyone needs to see me while they’re trying to choke down their breakfast?”

“Not everyone wakes up hungover.”

“Good for them,” Sam said. “Still not gonna get me on morning tv. Fuck that. Those shows are like the SparkNotes for the first draft of history.”

“Yeah, but they’re also like the double yellow lines in the center of the road. People count on ’em to tell them which way the world is going when they’re moving fast.”

“That is an absolutely terrible metaphor. I can’t believe I let you edit my work,” Sam laughed.

“Okay, I’m hitting publish. Three…two…”

One thing that never fails to surprise me, is how when a story like this breaks, some journalist out there will start digging, and often they do find something. Well, folks, that’s what happened with this story. We have some late-breaking news. Apparently, the sex tape that these screenshots were taken from has been posted online by a news organization. From what my producers are telling me it seems to be authentic. Is there anything you’d like to say, now that the video is out there?” the morning host asked with such a sunny optimism it was a total disconnect.

The voice was cheery and upbeat, but his message was pure doom: the sex tape is out. That’s all Roxanna’s client really heard. There he was — live on Good Morning America as he finds out. She’d prepared him well for everything, but the shock of learning that possibly millions of people would soon be watching him have sex was too much for him at seven in the morning. They’d been certain the sex tape would never leak. He’d deleted the upload. Had one of his frat bros sold him out? How did the sex tape get out? And that’s why he froze. He was paralyzed by all the things he didn’t know, but he imagined, and he seized-up, catatonic, right there on morning television. He uttered not a word, not even a sound, for a dramatic few seconds. He just stared at the morning tv show host. After a few seconds of his interminable silence, he finally nodded, but then he said nothing. No words followed.

“Did you want to say anything…now that your blackface sex tape has been released online?” the morning tv show host asked, rephrasing his question. Still just as saccharine and sunny.

“I…I…” the white boy frat bro paused, he re-gathered his thoughts, then he started again, this time with a sudden conviction. Like he’d remembered something. He was not supposed to feel this way. He felt motivated by a righteous anger, the sort that strikes someone who feels this shouldn’t be happening to him. His face flushed red, not with shame, it was indignance.

“I am…the victim of a digital lynch mob. It’s that simple. I didn’t want to have to say it, but now, I feel I must. This is a coordinated attack. And these people, whoever they are, they are coming after me. Because they hate me. Look, I’m just a kid, I’m in college, I don’t have it all figured it out. But these people are going to call to crucify me…and for what? For having consensual sex?!”

Roxanna cycled so quickly through emotions, watching her client from the wings of the morning show stage, she lost track of how she felt. She’d dropped her water bottle when he said the dreaded words “lynch mob.” But then he’d skipped past it so fast, she thought maybe no one really heard it, or would focus on it, mostly since he’d remembered to end his rant by pointing out it was consensual sex. That was something positive.

But just when she thought her job wasn’t going to be impossibly hard, she heard him double down. Roxanna wanted to quit, right then and there. As she’d threatened she would. But this is why she got paid so well, why she enjoyed the reputation she had in her industry, she never quit. Meanwhile, his words scratched into her ears like shoving a fork down into an operational garbage disposal.

“Since when does anyone care if someone else wants to have kinky sex,” her frat bro client argued on the set of the morning tv show. “This is America! We were doing it in the privacy of behind closed doors. It wasn’t like we were doing it in public. Like, sure, you’re right, maybe I don’t wanna see two men have sex, right? That’s their kink. But I would never tell them what they were doing behind closed doors is wrong. You know what I mean? And that’s what people are doing here. They’re trying to lynch me, the way they did with the gays before everything changed for them. This is kink-shaming. Pure and simple. Why does what I do in my bedroom matter…when what’s happening in the Philippines is happening, you know?”

It was a horror show of soundbites. So many clips. So much meme potential. He’d said everything so badly, and in a row. Like a string of pearls, but if the pearls were hunks of duck shit. He’d just insulted so many identities she lost count. And somehow, when her client mentioned lynching — for the second time — she was pretty sure he offended black people mostly because he left them out of the discussion, and bizarrely talked about lynching gay people. How can you manage to offend black people by not mentioning them getting lynched? She was pretty sure her client had done it. All in all, it was truly a spectacle to behold. And it all happened so fast. At the speed of morning television. But taken together, it somehow seemed to be working. He was winning over the smile-ready morning show host.

“That is a good point about the Philippines, why do you, or rather, why does your story matter more than what’s happening in places like Venezuela? You’re just a few college kids having a good time, you didn’t hurt anyone. Well, I guess I should ask since there were three of you in the bed: did anyone get a boo-boo while you were — you know — getting busy?” the morning host asked, and then grinned, like he was auditioning for a toothpaste commercial.

The line “This is America!” had left both men in stitches. Sam and his editor found the line particularly hilarious, each for their own reasons. But mostly for the kid’s delivery. “This is America!”

“I bet Donald Glover’s gonna be pissed he stole his line from him and dragged his black ass into this mess. I can already see the memes. Donald Glover photoshopped into their racist threesome, maybe shooting them with the text: This is America!”

“I like that you expect the memes to make that joke, and not all the obvious racist ones,” his editor said, the laughter drying up in his voice.

“Good point. I don’t know how but I still never give racism it’s due, like I don’t anticipate it to be all that it is, you know” he said. Not really a question.

“Would be rather unbearable if you did understand racism fully, think it would drive you mad with its ugliness,” his editor cautioned, his tone avuncular.

They turned their attention back to the television screen as Good Morning America came back from commercials.

“And we’re back with our guest, a young man who says he’s being attacked online for what he was doing behind closed doors. He wants to know where is it safe for a white person to express themselves these days? Okay, as you said before the commercial break, this event, apparently captured on video that’s now been released, this sex rendezvous happened at your frat house. Is that correct?” the sunny-voiced morning tv show host asked, practically repeating talking points back to his guest.

“Do you hear that shit?! Are you fucking kidding me?! He’s acting like it’s okay to be wildly racist as long as it’s behind closed doors. That’s not the fucking point of this story at all!” Sam shouted at both his editor and the tv screen.

“Settle down, someone’s going to call HR, and I don’t have time for that headache just because you’re getting loud.”

“But — but — you see what they’re doing?!”

“Of course. Hard to miss it. They’re reframing the narrative. You do the same all the time,” his editor reminded him.

“That’s not the same! He’s lying!” Sam barked.

“Is he? Weren’t they behind closed doors?” his editor pushed back.

“Are you going for this bullshit, too? Don’t tell me I have to quit today. That would really ruin my weekend,” Sam fired back casual sarcasm, but only half-joking.

“You think I’d ever go for an argument that flimsy? Screw you. My point, my incredulous friend, is that in his argument he is not lying. What he said is true. They were behind closed doors. But that’s not the important point. Is it? It’s not what someone does that is the most interesting thing. It never is. It’s how they do it. It’s not the song, it’s the singer, that enchants. And that’s what we write about and cover. Effect. Dynamics. The how. Don’t lose sight of that. Not ever. This kid knows it. He’s using it to reshape the narrative. He’s the victim. He‘s been media-trained, and well, he knows just what to say to derail the conversation and take it where he wants to go. He’s not lying, he’s just playing the victim. His blackface was bad. He knows it. Most of the audience probably agrees. But who was hurt by it, if no one saw it?”

“That’s not the point! I don’t want a racist doctor deciding my pain medicine? Or whether to operate to save my life, or not. Or some insurance executive approving my surgery. Or not, based on how Black my name is and what assumptions she makes because of it. Or a racist judge who throws out my lawsuit for malpractice because in his racist heart he doesn’t believe me. The racism that’s in their hearts is the problem!”

“I know. Now, how do you get the audience to feel the same way you do? And without making this little prep school prick look like even more of a victim?” his editor asked, genuinely curious himself.

They both turned back to the tv screen and watched America lap up more of the frat bro’s lies about why he was wearing blackface to a threesome.

After suffering through lunch with her client and his proud parents, all of them still feeling chipper and vindicated by the success of the Good Morning America tv appearance, Roxanna was ready to be alone. But she still had to take a Lyft home. She got comfortable in the backseat as it quietly pulled away from the curb. And her driver blessedly said nothing. Not even “hi,” which was a pleasant surprise for her.

Roxanna pulled her phone out and checked Twitter. It was its usual mix of pithy, political, pained, outraged, and offended posts. A few cat posts, too. She checked on her client’s story. What were people saying? She scrolled down news stories about him, checking the replies. A tiny guilty laugh escaped her.

They were actually winning. So many people tweeting about the story, and they were saying the same thing––that it happened behind closed doors. They said it was racist…but. And that but was all that was important. That but excused him. People said it lots of ways but they all said the same thing: it wasn’t public. You can’t stop people from being racist in their own homes, if they choose to be. This is America. Indeed. It seemed like mainstream America, the mostly white part, was on their side. It wasn’t exactly a good feeling, but she did like to win, and to be well-paid, so she wasn’t exactly thinking about quitting anytime soon, she was elated that they were winning.

Roxanna called her client, she waited a few rings before his mother answered. After a couple formalities and pleasantries, she got to why she was calling.

“We have reset the narrative. People are saying our story. Now we just let them fight about it on social media for a couple days until the next big new outrage comes and they forget all about your son. Now…no matter what anyone says online… do not let your son get on social media. That goes for you and your husband, too. Is that clear? Not a single post,” Roxanna said, hoping the tone of her voice carried the message to wherever it needed to go to be heard and understood.

The mother promised that she understood. But then when she began to discuss the fundraiser they were on their way to, Roxanna could only listen to so much. She pretended she had to take another call and hung up.

Soon as she was certain she was off the phone, she muttered to herself, “rich white people giving other rich white people money to protect one of their own from consequences…if they only knew this is why people are tired of their shit…but I guess it’s also why I have a job…so…” then she immediately felt silly talking to herself in front of her Lyft driver.

Her mind wandered back to what it most wanted to think about: him. She pulled out her phone and texted Sam:

got a W and still somehow had a shit day. can’t wait for dinner ;)

Surprisingly, he wrote back without any noticeable hesitation, answering her almost instantly. No game playing for him, she thought, and then she read his text:

same. shit day. caught an L. anyway, if you wanna come over early for drinks, you’re invited

If he wasn’t hesitating, then she wouldn’t either she reasoned, and then she texted back her eager answer:

ugh your mind

After she hit send, a pang of doubt struck. It hit like an ice cream headache. She waved it off and quickly added something a little less sarcastic, something approaching a little more earnest:

see ya soonish!

The way she felt when she pressed send that second time, she knew it, she was catching feelings. And she hated that she liked how it felt.

When she’d arrived he already had cocktails ready. A joint rolled. And an honest smile waiting for her. They decamped to his roof, it was the perfect space to shake off both their days. The silver pot smoke curled around her head as she took another drag and then exhaled the last of her frustrations with her life. He sipped his tequila cocktail. And took the joint from her when she passed it. The afternoon was falling away fast into evening. Like someone had shot the sun. The sky decided to decorate itself with a sunset pink with the promise of a starry night. The last of the clouds hugged the horizon and held the last of the sunlight as the sky blushed with its skybluepink.

“That’s my favorite color,” Sam said, his gaze far off in the horizon.

“Which one?” Roxanna asked, turning in the direction of the sunset.

“All of them together. My grandfather used to call it skybluepink. I don’t know if he made that word up or not, but I always liked it. That’s the color,” he said.

They both stared at the sky. Neither spoke. No words were necessary. It was just a moment––them and a sunset, on a roof in Manhattan, both wondering when they could get naked together again. But neither of them in any rush. Just taking it as it comes. Watching day slip into night. Together.

Once the second joint was done and spent, and their drinks needed refreshing, and the sun had gone to bed, he turned to her and asked, “You hungry? I should probably put dinner in the oven.”

“Or…I have another idea,” Roxanna said, mostly with her eyes.

And Sam answered her with his. They grew wide at her suggestion.

“Well,” he said, intrigued by her sexy unspoken suggestion.

“Well,” she replied. It was their first inside joke.

She extended her hand. He didn’t hesitate to accept it. He hand was surprisingly warm for how long they’d been on the rooftop, and for someone who’d been holding a cocktail. But his hands were warm, too. Their hands were warm, together. She led him back towards the rooftop stairway.

Roxanna stared up at the ceiling in his bedroom. There were no cracks like in her place. The paint was fresh, clean. There weren’t any cobwebs in the corner. It was spotless. Somehow this helped her relax more and she felt herself go with it — the paroxysms of pleasure tingling up her spine and fireworking through her. Her left hand lay against the bed sheets, curling them in its ecstatic grip. Her other hand slid down her body. Found his hair. His tongue was inside her, his face was pressed against her, sandwiched between her thighs, that occasionally squeezed together with whole body thrills. She ran her fingers through his hair and then grabbed tight. She held him against her, as his tongue curled inside her. Her eyes rolled, fluttered, as her mouth fell open. Wordlessly. At first, but soon she exhaled, “Oh fuuuuck…yes…no…right there…just stay there..”

She rolled her free arm across the bed, and arched back with a peak of pleasure thrilling through her. Just as instructed he kept going. Right there. He stayed there. As she got all the way off. Her free hand shoved up between the pillows. She hit a tv remote. A second later, the screen blinked to life. And there he was — her client. She couldn’t help herself. His face yanked her out of the moment. She yelped at the sight of him.

Sam pulled his face from between her thighs, and looked up at her, “You okay? Did I do something that hurt you?”

She wasn’t looking at him. She was looking past him, at the tv. He turned his head to see what had spooked her. It was the racist kid.

“That little motherfucker,” Sam laughed.

“I just didn’t expect to see my client, it fucked me up. Sorry. Let me turn this back–” Roxanna said, but never got to finish.

“Your what?” Sam said, every journalistic instinct piqued and at full attention.

“That kid––the one who’s all over the news with that stupid sex tape––he’s my client. Not his friend or Miss America, just him,” Roxanna said, not suspecting that Sam had any further interest in her answer beyond that.

But he did. He clearly did.

“No, wait. Your client? Are you a lawyer?” Sam asked, fearing the worst.

“Oh god, no. My brother’s a lawyer. I would never want to read that much for a living,” Roxanna said, hoping they could soon change the subject.

Instead, Sam pushed himself up from between her thighs. He climbed the bed toward her, and sat there, next to her, while she remained lying back against the pillows. Roxanna looked up at him, beginning to assume he had an interest in her client, too.

“Look, I know he’s a shithead, but I–”

“You know your client is a shithead, and yet you represent him,” he said, not letting her finish.

“I’m not his lawyer. I’m his PR person, his image consultant,” Roxanna snapped.

“You’re a PR flak. Oh my god, for that racist kid?” Sam said, now looking at the tv and not at her.

“Why do you care so much? I told you I think he’s an asshole–”

“Well, you’re not wrong there. He definitely is. I was the one who leaked his sex tape.”

“You’re that Sam?” she said, the words deflating out of her.

“I’m that Sam,” he said, his anger heating up the room.

She sat up in bed, quick, ready to escape.

“Where are you going?” he asked. She stopped in mid-motion. Her back to him, turned away, but still seated on the bed.

“Home. It’s clear whatever we had, or I thought we might have, is no longer happening,” she said, trying to hide her hurt. She was losing that fight.

“So you’re just gonna go — you think I want you to leave?” Sam asked.

She hadn’t expected that. She expected him to want her to leave. She turned, looked back at him. Her eyes softening their hard hot stare.

“You want me to stay?” she said, more emotionally honest than she’d heard herself be, for as long as she could remember.

Sam gazed into her eyes. Neither of them spoke. Her client’s voice reverberated in the speakers of the tv. It felt like it was mocking them both. That is, until Sam reached over and used the remote to turn off the tv. Then all was silent. They sat there on his bed, both naked, both feeling that good feeling drain away like their arousal.

“Why do you do what you do?” he asked, breaking the quiet. “Why would you do that? Why would you help some rich prick racist frat bro get away with it — why would you help America excuse him? I honestly don’t get it,” Sam said, unable to square the woman he’d known with the woman now sitting naked on his bed next to him. The change had happened so fast.

“It pays well,” she said, not willing to lie or justify herself.

The money. She’d had grown up poor. And she never wanted to feel that fear again. She never thought much about her work, not that way — not in the grand scheme of things. She’d always figured someone would do it. The work was going to get done. Someone was going to convince America to excuse and forgive racist white boys. Why did it really matter if it was her? And what was the difference between her and her brother, the defense lawyer. He defended horrible people and helped them continue to commit more crimes. That’s not how he looked at it, of course. But that’s what she thought he did. He helped bad man get off from facing justice. He was good at his job. That was just part of how things work in the world.

“It pays well? And that does it for you? Money?” Sam said, not willing to hide the derision.

She hated how he said it, like she had her price. She didn’t think of sex workers, instead she thought of bought-and-paid politicians. That’s who she pictured when he asked if money does it for her. A shudder of recognition ran through her like a cold chill.

“No, that’s not what does it for me. Helping people be able to defend themselves is what does it for me,” she lied. “I told you my brother’s a lawyer. What’s the difference between what he does as a defense attorney and what I do?”

“We have a legal system. There’s no such thing as a PR system. That’s just one thing, and second of all, we need lawyers. No one needs PR, unless they’ve done some fucked-up shit.”

“That’s not true!” she shouted back at him.

“You know what I mean. I don’t mean Hollywood PR flaks, I mean what you do,” he said.

He had a real way of making his words hurt. Or maybe it was that she cared about what he said, and his judgment stung more than any she’d heard in some time. Either way, she hated how it made her feel small and wrong.

“Funny how you can sit her and judge me when you’re nothing more than a snoop who hacks into college kids computers so you can get a very little amount of money for embarrassing them and making everyone online fight about what a problematic person some kid is. Yeah, I can see how your noble pursuit is so much better than what I do for a living,”

“That’s how you see journalism?” he said, genuinely struck by her attack.

“Yeah, well. That’s one way to look at it, at least what you do,” she said, hoping it hurt more.

“What I do. You want to know what the difference between what I do for a living and what you do?”

“Not really. I’m rather certain it’ll be some high-and-mighty bullshit. So yeah, spare me. I’m gonna go,” she said, and stood up from the bed. She gathered up her clothes from the floor.

He spoke to her naked back, “In my job, we try to do our best to tell the truth. To inform people. I’m like a teacher…but for everyone, or anyone. For my readers. That’s who I work for. You? You’re just a liar. You distort the truth, you hide it, you twist it and make it unrecognizable, you are everything that’s wrong with this country. You think money matters more than education, than truth. You’re willing to take a check to protect white supremacy, the status quo, all of it. If you want to advance the idea of whiteness––I don’t care about white people, I like white people fine, but whiteness, that poison pill, is the reason we’re shouting at each other right now––if you don’t care about that, if you don’t see that as the problem…that makes you…my enemy.”

She had let his words hit her back and slide down her like a chill of shame. Naked, hunched over, collecting her clothes from the floor. She was small, hurt, and every last shred of hope for love that had started to bloom in her heart just died in a sudden freeze. Love’s petals fell and collected on the floor of her insides.

She pushed her fingernails into the palms of her hands so that the pain would distract her and keep her from crying. But the pain failed her. She’d just let herself feel how good life could feel. Momentarily. But then, it was all snatched away from her. Now, she was naked and alone, on his floor, as he spit hot words at her back, calling her his enemy for something she didn’t create and she didn’t feel it had nothing to do with her. Roxanna would take no more.

She spun up, and rose to her feet, clutching her clothing against her naked body, she tore into him in a voice he had yet to hear.

“Fine, then! If I am as you say I am — if I am your enemy––then, while I’m behind enemy lines, you’re gonna hear my piece, too, motherfucker. You and every high-minded motherfucker like you. You act like this isn’t the world we live in. Do I get paid to lie? Yes, yes I do! And you do, too. You just act like you don’t. Do you publish stories about how your company offers equal pay to all its female, or female-identifying employees? No? Maybe because you can’t, because you don’t. And you know why not? Because that’s the truth. Yeah, I know some truths, too. But I can’t do what you do. No one is looking out for me. I can’t make the choices you do. I would starve. Like, be honest. How often do you see women get paid well to tell people the truth? Yeah, motherfucker. I lie for a living. You do, too. We all do. Stories are all we have. Some are true, some are honest, some are lies. But we get paid for the stories and how they make people feel. At least, I’m smart enough to get paid off this fucked-up country. I can’t change it. I can’t fix it. Not as just one woman. But I damn sure don’t have to starve or take shit because it’s a fucking nightmare place to live if you have any morals whatsoever. But you go on and judge me. Do whatever the fuck you want. But just know, I didn’t make America. But this is America! And don’t you dare act like I’m what makes this place so corrupt and greedy and violent and power-mad and so obsessed with celebrities. I just found a way to benefit off that. I was too smart not to. That has nothing to do with the fact I’m white and everything to do with the fact I’m a smart woman. I don’t even call myself that––white. I think of myself as Macedonian-American. Yeah. I’m not advancing anything. Not like you claim. But you think what you want.”

She spun around and slammed the bathroom door shut behind her. He listened as she furiously got dressed. It was almost funny. Almost. But he was still angry. He still felt betrayed. He still felt angry he’d let himself care about her. Because that’s what was making him grow softer with every passing second. With every heartbeat thundering in his chest. It worried him. He felt like he couldn’t even trust himself now. What if she was right? Why was he so certain he was right? Was he that much different than her? He no longer knew what to think, his certainty grew fuzzy. He only knew what he felt. Indistinct, but strong. It was a jumbled mix, but he could feel all his roiling emotions, each contradictory one.

The bathroom door opened. Roxanna stepped out. Her composure was completely different. They were like strangers again. She sniffed once, the only sign she’d been on the edge of a total emotional collapse just moments ago. It was like she’d flipped a switch inside her. He recognized it because he could do the same thing. He just hadn’t done it yet. Once she left, he would. He would turn his heart back off.

Roxanna stood at the end of his bed. She was fully-dressed, fully composed, fully removed from his effect. She looked down at him, still naked in his bed, where just a few moments before she’d so happily been. Until that damn remote ruined everything. She knew that was not where their story had soured, but it’s what she felt.

“You know what, Sam?” she said, then paused.

He didn’t know what to say. Even though it was a simple enough question. He didn’t say anything. He just stared up at her, knowing he was no longer allowed inside her eyes.

“It’s a shame. You’re a good cook. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re even fucking handsome. You’re the first man I’ve ever known who can grow plants like you can. Or make me laugh the way you did. Or make me cum the way you did. I thought we could have something. I thought we could be good together. For each other. I’d given up on that. For me. But you made me feel it, for a second. And that felt good. I wanted more of that. More of you. That’s the truth. But you’re one of them.”

She let her words hang, like a dare. Would he ask who they are? She waited. He knew what it was, but he took it. He went for the bait. He couldn’t help himself. He had to know what she thought he was.

“One of whom? Part of the Fake News media?” he said, a dismissiveness impossible to hide.

“No. You prefer fantasies to reality. But that’s where I live. Reality. Here. Now. You could live in my world, but I could never live in yours, because yours doesn’t exist. It’s not real,” Roxanna both wanted to hurt him and to win. She wanted to hurt him as bad as he hurt her, and she wanted him to have a souvenir, a keepsake of his time with her. And hopefully, her words would always stay with him. With any luck they might haunt him until he died. She was being dramatic, she knew it, but it’s how she felt. Fuck him.

She continued to wage her campaign of seeded memories, her voice hoarse from the shouting, “You live in a tragic fantasy, where everything now is fucked, everything’s racist, or whatever, but don’t worry, there’s some future world that only you and special people like you can see, and you’re gonna drag the rest of us there. It’ll be amazing, great, whatever. It’ll be the same shit. Just shit you can live with since we went forward in the direction you want to go.”

“You know what, you’re right. But you got it backwards. You could live in my America, but you don’t want to be poor. You say you’re not white like them, but you’re invested in it, just like them. Your clients. You fight for their side. That’s the deal. You like nice things too much, or at least more than you’re willing to risk losing them for– But I could never live in your America. Because I could never lie to myself the way you do. And I could never look someone in the eye, see the truth, but then convince everyone else to believe that they’re a liar, knowing that they’re the one who’s actually telling the truth. That shit matters to me. Truth is all we have. But in your America, I’d be a fool not to do that. Everyone’s doing it. Fuck that. Truth exists. And you damn well know, you just don’t care. You’d rather help them and get paid to lie.”

It stung. She shouldn’t have stayed to let him say anything. She should have said her piece, spun on her heels and left in a huff. Now it was too late. She could already feel doubt creeping up her spine, confusing her, making her want to stay and figure out how they could be together in each other’s worlds.

“Look, answer me one question,” Sam said, his voice softer, almost pleading with both himself and her that they triumph over whatever it was that was keeping them apart.

“One question. Then I’m leaving,” Roxanna said.


She stared at him. Waiting. He stared back at her. Both of them were held back from entering the eyes of the other. They wore faces like masks. Finally, he asked his one question.

“Your client. What he did was racist. There’s no arguing that. You helped to convince America that it didn’t really matter because — and this was brilliant by the way — he had done it behind closed doors. And for people like me to write about it and express outrage was us invading his privacy. He was the victim. We were the attackers. And that means that racist kid became the victim, he’s the one we have to protect from mean, lying, over-sanctimonious journalists like me. And other white kids just like him saw it, and knew they’d be protected, too. They saw how the system works. They’re no fools, they’ll join your side. Keep the long con power game going for another generation.”

“There is a question coming, correct? Because I’m really eager to hear it,” Roxanna said, sarcasm had been quick to come back to her defense.

“My question is: your client paid you, but really the agenda you worked for was bigotry. You used your tremendous brain, your amazing set of skills, and employed them to advance racism and excuse it. You’re like a mercenary for bigotry. How do you expect your partner to be proud of you for making this a safer world for rich racist pricks; like, how are you not the enemy of everything that’s good and decent in this world?”

He’d done his journalist best to disarm her and then went in for the kill just before he hit that question mark. She took one short swift inhale of air. It cooled her lungs, but not her mind. It was working at manic pace trying to conceive the perfect response. Finally, it came to her with the sudden illumination of a firefly in summer. And it was just as elemental an inspiration.

“Donald Glover’s Atlanta. That show is on the FX network. Fox and Fox News, they’re the same ones that advance our president’s far more damaging agenda of bigotry than my work-for-hire agenda. Right? Now, is Donald Glover as bad as I am, or is he worse? He legitimizes FX, which is Fox, he makes them rich, he helps advance Donald Trump’s hateful narrative. I don’t make my clients rich. Not like he does. I just help people avoid having their lives ruined because they made a stupid mistake. You like to cancel people. I save them…from people like you, who make your living ending other people’s lives. You’re a murderer who doesn’t even have the guts to kill a person, instead you just kill their life and leave them alive to witness what you’ve done. You’re cruel. But pretend you’re moral. You’re heartless but think you feel everything. You tell yourself you’re doing the good fight. But you offer no real justice. You’re not restoring people, rehabilitating people, you just hold ’em up for all to see, and then you knock ’em down. But never mind that — you’re a good person. And they deserve it. Your world is black and white. It has hard edges and clearly demarcated boundaries. It has heroes and villains. And sunsets to ride off into. My world is all grey. Everything spills into everything else. It’s messy and ugly. And I’m scared. Most of the time. I don’t know what I have — what this life means — I only know what feels good. You felt good. This felt good. Not being poor anymore feels good. Having plenty of money in the bank feels good. Yes, I take money from bigots so I can enjoy a better life, and it feels good. I admit it. Fuck them. But I’ll take their money. Because, in case you haven’t noticed it, there are way more rich prick assholes than there are kindhearted rich people. Must be something about money.”

“Must be,” Sam said, agreeing with her even as he disagreed with her. He did it in a way that confirmed for both of them that as much as they both wanted it, they could never be together. Not in this world. Not in this America.

She looked at him one last time, secretly hoping one of them could say something to make her stay, to make him see her the way he once did before he knew what she did for a living.

“Well,” Roxanna said.

“Well,” Sam said, not knowing what to say, so he added nothing else. He did not know how to go backwards in time to fix what had happened between them, and he didn’t know how to move forward with her.

So, he watched her walk away, open and shut the door behind her, leaving him on the other side. His side. In his apartment, naked and alone. And mad.

“Well,” he said to himself. And he let the word linger in the new silence.

Sam lay back in bed. He exhaled his emotions like smoke, “…this fucking country, goddamn, America.”