Please forgive me, for I am about to sin. I think that this is a story you might already know about.
We met somewhere on the street, that much I am sure of it. The summer heat was at its peak, and I can remember sipping a soda pop on the pavement, not really in the mood to play checkers or cards with my buddies in their more practical places on the café tables.
These were the sons of the crème de la crème, and they could afford to actually buy the sandwiches the café paid for, their tabs paid at the end of every month by the absent parents that lined their pockets with all the gold they could ask for.
As for me, I had to suffice with the frozen cheese sandwich my mother had slipped into the paper bag in my work sack that morning while doing my best to live off of the lukewarm soda I’d snuck out of the house hours ago, the syrupy sweet drink sticking to my tongue like rotten honeycomb, doing the best to cool myself down before I had to go back for another shift.
Bricklaying was hard work, but it paid pretty well, and I needed the cash to help Maman with rent and to maybe afford dinner for myself for the next week or so.
He said that he first caught me with the straw in between my lips as I sucked the sour sweetness out of the soda pop in my hand, back pressed against the café I didn’t eat from as my fingers skimmed through the back of a tossed newspaper, looking for a job that involves me gluing bricks together for the rest of my life.
“I liked the way that your locs framed your face,” He had told me later. “A bright blue mess bound up with a dirty work rag. Thoughtful smile and golden-brown skin befitting a prince.”
“Or a princess,” I had thought to myself. But I’m getting a little too far ahead.
Anyway, what I remember him by was his scent. It wrapped around him like silk robes around some forgotten emperor, and it was that scent that compelled me to first look up from my newspaper. He smelled like glamor; he smelled like money.
And as soon as our eyes met, he smiled at me.
“Hello,” He said, and I must have blinked at him in confusion because he soon crouched down, squatting on the ground in front of me.
Whatever refresher the soda had left me with was burned out by the heat that rushed to my face as he peered at me, and I didn’t realize until years later that he was trying to figure out just one thing:
“How old are you?”
I feel tres stupide! I should have lied and started in with some French but he was staring at me so intently with his nice, fancy cologne that I answered with,
“Sixteen, sir. Though I’ll be seventeen tres bientot.” I must have sounded so eager, because he chuckled in reply, saying “Well, you’re practically a man then. May I take a sip?” he asked, pointing to half-gone soda in my other hand.
I blinked again, looking at bottle for a moment before taking out the straw to hold between my teeth and say, “Bien sur, monsieur!”. I handed the bottle to him, which he took with a gracious nod.
“Merci,” He replied silkily, and I had to hold back a laugh at how disastrously his syllables ran together as he took a sip, making a circle with his thumb and index finger at the front of the bottle as he didn’t want the mouth of the bottle to touch his lips.
Looking back at me, he tapped at the front of the newspaper in my lap. “Looking for a job? Well, aren’t you a little young?”
I felt a bit defiant. “Old enough to work, monsieur.”
I remember him raising an eyebrow in surprise, before holding up the soda to hand back to me. He kept it far away enough for me to have to reach out to grab it from him.
Was there something I missed? Did he really run a thumb over my outstretched fingertips?
In any case, I remember him saying, “You have rough hands. You must be a hard worker.”
Not knowing what to say that I just nodded with a polite, “Oui, monsieur.”
He smiled again. “If you lose the French, I might be able to give to a small job. Do mind working nights during the summer?”
I had to think about that. Maman was wary about me working during the day as it is, let alone having to catch the late trolley back to Diem in the middle of the night.
“Depends on how many nights, sir.” I replied, and he nodded, as if understanding.
“Three nights a week, and you can get overtime if you decide to stay over. I need someone to polish my perfume bottles for me. And you seem to have the hands for it.”
“Merci! I-I mean-“ I replied to reproachful look he sent me. “Thank you, sir, that would be great! When can I start?”
He smiled, satisfied. “When can you start?”
I had to think about this again. I had to let Maman know. “De dema-Um, I mean, tomorrow? Tomorrow night?”
He nodded. “Perfect timing. You’ll be out of my wife’s way, she’ll be out of town gathering supplies. May I have your name?”
I blinked. “Yvonna. Yvonna Vidal. But, I’m mostly called Von.”
He nodded. “And Von will do. And you shall call me Lord Azoulai. ‘My Lord’ would be fine, too. I’ll see you soon?” he slipped a small business card in-between the fingers I had wrapped around the soda bottle.
I had to hold back the ‘oui’. “Yes, sir”, I said, trying my best to look nonchalant as I moved the straw from in-between my teeth and back into the soda bottle.
He smiled, satisfied. “Good boy, Von. And thank you for the drink.”
He left me there, burning up on the burning sidewalk. It had all happened so quick that my friends hadn’t even noticed him until he went on his way, and only because they had caught his scent on the breeze.
They had asked, “Who was that guy, Vonnie?” My rich friends always called me Vonnie.
I didn’t really respond at first. I was too busy glancing the elegant script on his calling card.
A name: Lord Azoulai.
An address: A house in the Palms.
I then looked up and gave my friends a playful shrug. “Just some rich guy giving me a job”
And we all shared a laugh as I feel dizzy at the scent he left on my bottle top, leaving me feeling giggly as I drank the drink in, half-bitten straws be damned.
It had all started with the kissing. Well, it had all started for me at least. I guess it had all started for him just as soon as scoped me out sucking on my soda on the hot summer pavement that hot summer day.
I soon found out that his wife did gather supplies uptown for him when she was alive. She’d been dead five years before I’d met him and his supplies came in the mornings. I was usually gone by then though I had to sneak past the delivery men a couple times.
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it because that would be a lie. He was rich, an older man who smelled nice, had a big house all to himself and was hot-as-shit, of course, I was flattered! The kisses he gave me were long and smooth and I liked the way he’d play with my hair or run his hands up and down my back, sometimes playing with the belt at my waist, sometimes not. I liked how I was his ‘sexy little secret’ as he put it, and how he would be so enamored with the way I’d polish his silver or clean out his perfume bottles (which was a real job I really did, a juré sur Dieu!) he’d just sit there and stare as he mixed up his perfumy brew, mixing to put up for sale.
He’d want to polish me up too. This usually happened late at night, usually with oils. Thick, heavy scents that he’d massage all over my body as I held back cries of ecstasy so his neighbors wouldn’t hear. He wouldn’t let me touch him whenever he kissed me. He’d tell me to concentrate on my work whenever I’d stare back. He had me out before daybreak, my skin usually in some sweet, nighttime oil and I’d catch the late trolley home, feeling like I was covered in used tissues, trying my best not to tear up as I crawled next to my brother in bed as soon as I got home.
“You smell like a bathroom,” my brother would say his in sleep. “Like, a really clean fancy, bathroom, d’accord.”
No amount of hosing behind the house would get the scent off, not really.
Then the summer was over and his real assistant was back for the season. They were perfectly kind and thanked me for keeping things so well in order for them the whole time.
Lord Azoulai smiled at them, and I just gave a nervous chuckle and a murmur of ‘Bien sur!’
He snapped his eyes at me then. I was ushered out of the house after that, with a box of perfume samples and a few more weeks pay.
“Thank you for your time,” he said, and then he shut the back door without looking back at me once through the clean, clear windows that I spent many a night wiping to perfection.
We never spoke again. We never needed to. I saw him around town sometimes, though I can’t say I didn’t feel sick every time I’d see him scoping out someone new.
I felt like pure merde. Maman loved the perfume, though. I think she still has some of it left in her dresser somewhere, even now, seven years on. She always liked smelling nice, so I don’t begrudge her for it.
Well, someone has to enjoy his scents. After all, he makes perfumes for a living.
Now, I know why you might be wondering why I’m telling you all this, ma Cherie?
Mostly because you asked me-very honestly-why I didn’t want to move to into the Palms, it wasn’t as if we couldn’t afford it.
Ma Cher…vous disaient la vérité. A part of me knows that it wouldn’t be good to us to live apart for much longer. For one, we’d been doing that for years-after all, I used some of his money to pay for passage on my first boat, after all. Two years worth of travel and smart trade-like ventures had certainly left us with enough money to start off with.
“Why not the Palms?” you asked. “It was a nice place to live, and I liked the smell and the heat.”
I swear I was only half-lying I didn’t want to live with a bunch of rich folks. I loved the way your thick hair bounced when you laughed, the way your purple-hazel eyes glowed when you looked at me, tears in your eyes. I always loved how you looked at me and saw me.
I love the way you laughed as we teased each other throughout dinner.
I’m glad we don’t need to buy scents from him-you get plenty of your own from your own job and I am all about keeping the cow if the milk is free, or something like that.
You never wear your perfume like silk, you wear it like hairbows or jewelry. You aren’t trying to make yourself, you’re trying to highlight what you know it is already yours.
It’s part of why I fell for you. It’s why I’m glad you fell for me though a mediocre lover I turned out to be, even with my severed lines of red thread appearing all over town.
I’m happy to be your princess, Cherie, though I know you tease me for my love of soft things like my clothes or the colors we’d eventually paint our house or the mattress and covers of the bed we share.
Ma Cherie, ma femme.
I love the way you play with my hair when we kiss when we make love.
Do you remember how confused you were the first time we truly kissed?
It was a cold day, and we were both shivering in that alleyway.
I was so afraid to touch you I barely let my fingers glanced over your cheek though I loved the way that shivered at my touch and how you played with my hair.
I let your hands go up and down my back, shivering at the tenderness of your touch, whimpering as you pulled away from me.
“Yvonna…” you said. By the way, J’adore how you say my name.
Anyway, you said, “Yvonna, you can touch me too, yknow.”
You smiled at me as if this was obvious Cherie, and I was surprised at how you lead my free hand from my side to cold, bare skin between your jacket and hip.
I remember chuckling a quiet chuckle. “Me Cher, if you want to have your wicked way with me so bad, why don’t we take this upstairs?”
I love how indignant you looked as you stared at me in the street light, before looking away from me in embarrassment.
“I honestly wouldn’t mind that so much,” You replied. “I’m just surprised. I didn’t know you’d be so nervous.” You confessed.
I heard you pause before the ‘too’. Oh, my sweet Cherie…
I took you your face into my hands then, paused to look at you to see if this was alright, and you nodded and we kissed and giggled, breathless as they became more fierce.
We did make it upstairs eventually though you still have to deal with a few nosey neighbors who swore we’d done a lot more in that alleyway than a kiss.
“Let them talk,” you said as we had breakfast the next morning, along with you begging me not to order soda as my breakfast coffee.
All your jackets smell a little like my cologne, and all my coats smell a bit like your perfume.
Maybe we should stop stealing both of ours, but I’d like to argue we’re both around the same size. It’s easy to make that mistake like three times a day.
Anyway, ma Cherie, I must say je desole. For I truly feel like have sinned for thinking back on a mere man while in bed with a real goddess.
I’ll make it up to you before we go house shopping again in the morning. Let’s find a nice place by the trees.
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