A Million Reasons
“Okay, Becker, get ‘em out of your system now. If you gotta throw sevens, now’s the time.” Dealers at both ends of the table worked feverishly to payout the bets from Becker’s winning roll. This was one of the most coveted jobs in the casino and they talked and cheered almost as much as the players. After all, the better the players did, the bigger the tips.
Unlike Claire, Becker stood to one side with a bottle of water in her hand. Every so often the waitress would bring her a diet coke, since she never drank alcohol when she gambled. When the chips had been squared away, she rubbed her hands together in anticipation of rolling again. The button had been flipped to off for the moment making the dreaded seven, which when a number was established was craps, a good number to strive for.
“He’s right, darlin’, a seven would be mighty fine right about now,” said the Texan opposite her as he put ten thousand on the pass line and smiled.
“Call me darlin’ again, ugly, and I’m going to make you eat one of these,” she teased pointing to the dice the handler pushed in front of her. Becker was paying attention to the game, but was also watching the drama unfolding a couple of yards away.
Glancing down for a minute, she placed her initial bet and then arranged the dice so the one was face up on each. Becker then stacked them before throwing them in a slight arc to the other side making sure they hit the side of the table. The red die rolled a couple of times before coming to a stop on the six and five.
“Eleven, winner.” The dealers got to work again paying everyone with chips on the pass line. An eleven was just as good as seven on the come out roll and the players were exchanging high fives when Becker doubled their money.
The ritual was repeated again, and again she rolled an eleven. To the seasoned players it signaled a good streak and the bets started coming so fast the dealers were having trouble keeping up. In the frenzy to get the bets where they belonged, Becker relaxed and took some sips of water and looked at Constance. It wasn’t uncommon for her to visit during a high stakes game, but it was strange for her to have an entourage.
“Are you letting it ride, Becker?” asked the dealer closest to her. She hadn’t picked up her winnings, which left a substantial amount in play if she didn’t collect the chips.
“Head in the game, Beck,” added one of the players.
The guy had started conservative but was now betting big and was quick to give advice as if it were only his money at stake. Of all the people playing, the portly man was the only one not having fun. For Becker that was always a sign of someone with a lot to lose, and if that was true, he was the last person who should’ve been playing, but then people wanting the quick fix were what made Las Vegas thrive. If common sense prevailed, this would still be some little stop in the desert.
“Hey, Wilson, shut it before I do it for you,” threatened the guy standing closest to the lecturer. His warning saved Becker the trouble. She rolled again without turning and stacking the dice.
“Two, craps.” Snake eyes was a loser, and even though no one could really manipulate the dice to do their bidding, the people at the table thought she had thrown them for spite.
While the chips were being swept away and stacked, Constance came over and whispered something in Becker’s ear. Blue eyes never left the blonde as Constance took a chance that potentially could cost her the job she loved.
Jolie reminded Becker of someone, the hair and what little she had seen of her eyes that early morning by the fountain had made her look twice. The coloring was similar but in the boutique earlier, it was Jolie’s eyes that made her unique. To Becker they reminded her of a deep green lake with small golden fish swimming along the shore.
The ring the woman wore was a symbol she was with someone but her significant other had left her alone for the day in pursuit of other matters. The woman at the black jack table drinking scotch and losing wasn’t important at the time, but now Becker remember who she was. Like her pal Wilson at the table, the woman played like she had something to lose, and when you chased luck, the lady became elusive. The sad look on her partner’s face was what touched Becker. In the boutique, it had been Jolie’s easy smile that made her act so impulsively and the look of sorrow was prompting her to do it again.
Five chips came off the tray in front of Becker no questions asked. Constance realized Becker’s gesture wasn’t a loan. It was a gift to make the smile reappear on Jolie’s face.
“Chris, could you hand me Ms. Smith’s slip please.” Constance waited and looked up at the small camera dome over her head. Her actions were being recorded but she was helping a friend and would let that stand as her excuse if her boss called.
She handed over four of the chips and the floor supervisor stamped it paid. “Thanks, and make a note to limit Ms. Smith’s line of credit in the future to a couple hundred bucks. She played a lot today, but it was our money she was playing with.”
“Sure thing, Constance, I’ll take care of it.”
She turned to Jolie and gave her the last chip. “It doesn’t make you a winner, but it does square you.”
The small plastic piece in her hand had $5000 stamped at its center, and Jolie studied it before curling her fingers around it. “I don’t understand, but thank you for asking her. Do you think when she’s done we could sit with her and work out how we pay this back?”
“You don’t have to work anything out, honey. This was a gift and please don’t insult her by trying to convince her that’s not how it was accepted. If you do, it’s me who’ll get the grief, and I’m already way out on the ledge here.” Constance wasn’t above using a little guilt if it brought the situation to a close everyone was happy with.
“No one just gives you this much money.”
Constance put her hands up. “I know…I know, not without wanting something in return.”
“It’s true,” she curled her fingers tighter around the chip when Claire stirred back to life and reached for it. “Back off, or I swear, I’ll flatten you.” The ruckus at the table meant Becker had again rolled something good.
“But we had a deal,” insisted Claire.
“Yes we did and you lost everything, remember? Call me stupid but if you lose again I don’t think this is going to happen.”
Claire looked at their savior for the first time and it finally occurred to her to ask. “Who is that anyway?” She snapped her fingers and pointed accusingly at the blonde. “She sent the dress didn’t she?”
“Yes,” Jolie dragged out the word not liking where Claire was headed.
“Out making friends while I was busy were we?”
“Stop it, you know me better than that. I wasn’t cruising women while you were playing. Get real.”
“Then what is this, you coming to Vegas and finding a fairy godmother?”
“Ms. Smith, I’m going to have to ask you to keep your voice down or I’ll have security remove you. Our other guests are trying to enjoy their evening.” Constance had done all she could and was now ready to get away from the obnoxious egomaniac Jolie had come with.
“Try it,” Claire stood her ground, the liquor fueling her bravado, “and I’ll make you sorry.”
“Is there a problem?” Jolie spun around at the question. There was something about Becker’s voice that made her crave to hear it again. The myths about the sirens and their irresistible song made sense to her now. “Constance, is there a problem?” Becker asked again, when no one said anything.
“No problem, Ms. Gaudet, Constance was just escorting these folks back to the main floor. Weren’t you, Constance?” asked Chris.
“Chris, if I wanted an answer out of you, I would’ve asked you,” the tone was flat since Becker tried never to project anger if she could help it. “I’ve never know Constance to need assistance in answering one of my questions. She’s more than capable I’m sure.”
“My apologies, Ms. Gaudet.”
Becker nodded and looked back at the three women. “Well?”
“Chris was right, we were just heading back, but since you’re here I’m sure Jolie and Claire would like to thank you for your generosity.”
“Thanks aren’t necessary. We all get carried away at times when the thrill of the game gets in your blood. I’m just glad I could be of help.”
Claire looked the tall woman over and didn’t care for the way she was looking at her partner. “Why did you buy my woman a dress?”
“Your woman?” The laugh that followed the question was full and deep. “I didn’t realize you had a boutique here that sold beautiful blondes, Constance. Shame on you for not telling me.”
“Becker, come on back,” one of her gambling buddies yelled. “Stan sucks at rolling.”
A big hand went up for them to be patient and go on without her. She wasn’t finished with her conversation. “I bought a dress today because I thought the lady might like it. She acted as if she did when she was standing in the store admiring it. If you’re lucky, which I see you haven’t been at the tables, she’ll wear it for you if you ask her to dinner. A wise woman once told me that beautiful women shouldn’t be ignored or treated as property.”
“You can take your advice and shove it up your ass, Becker, or whatever the hell your name is. Jolie is with me, and no pretty dress is going to change that.”
“I’m sorry,” Jolie interrupted. “Claire, zip it. Ms. Gaudet, thank you again for the dress and for the money you just gave us. I know it may not seem like a big deal to you but you really helped us out of a bind.”
“Anytime.” She completely ignored Claire and focused her eyes on Jolie. “I hope you enjoy the dress, but please accept my apologies if I overstepped myself in giving it to you. I certainly meant no disrespect.”
“It was a surprise, but no, I’m not insulted. And if that’s the way you insult people, you must certainly have a really good job,” teased Jolie.
“For fuck sakes, Jolie, I’m standing right here,” screamed Claire. “Why not ask her to take you up to her room?”
Becker put her hand up to stop whatever was going to come out of Jolie’s mouth. It had been years since she’d wanted to hit someone as much as she wanted to smash Claire in the jaw. The first time she felt this kind of rage was right after she’d turned twelve and was walking home from school alone.
“Hey, kid,” the older boy led a pack of his friends across the street from her and had been taunting her for blocks. “Hey, idiot, I’m talking to you.” The other boys laughed encouraging Frankie further.
“I think she’s kind of stupid, Frankie. Either that or she’s deaf.”
Becker gripped the tattered book bag on her shoulder and kept walking. She was tall for her age and teasing had become a way of life. It was always something, and other kids were quick to point out all her faults as they saw them. She attended Catholic school, but the uniforms she wore were second hand. Her shoes were always plain, and there was never money for extras like coke or candy. The Mother Superior of Saint Genevieve didn’t believe in extras since she was in charge of so many children.
The little ones who looked up to Becker still had a chance at some couple coming and adopting them, but there were a few like her that were past the point where anyone but the nuns at St. Genevieve wanted them. For now Becker understood her place in the world and spent her days like a person condemned to jail for a crime. She counted the time she had left with women who had devoted themselves to God, but in reality didn’t like children.
“I’m talking to you, stupid.” Frankie and his gang had crossed the street as Becker thought about her fate. She didn’t notice the sudden move until he shoved her in the shoulder making the bag fall to the ground ripping the strap off. “You the kid who don’t got no parents?”
“And he’s calling me stupid,” Becker commented to no one as she bent to pick up her bag.
“What did you call me?” He kicked the bag again and the canvas started to soak up the water in the gutter where it had landed. A report she had been working on for days was now probably ruined.
“I said you were stupid, but I was wrong.”
The group laughed harder thinking she was resigning herself to the situation. “That’s what I thought you said,” Frankie shoved her again.
“Stupid doesn’t begin to cover it and I really should’ve gone with asshole.” When she was done, Becker cocked her fist back and let it go into Frankie’s face. The blow caught him by surprise because of its power. When he doubled over, she went to the next closest one and let her frustrations out on the kid’s eye. She felt the arms go around her when she went to hit the third idiot who wasn’t brave enough to taunt alone.
“Whoa there, slugger.” The voice was soft and full of compassion making Becker stop. She could hear her heart beating in her ears and her chest was working overtime trying to get her breathing to even out. “You boys go home before I call your mothers to come and get you for causing all this trouble.”
Becker turned around to a face framed by the wimple the Carmelite nuns from the orphanage were known for. Only this time instead of an older woman ready to show her disapproval with a ruler that always materialized out of the robes, this was the face of a young woman with bright green eyes.
“I’m sorry, Sister, but they ruined my bag. All my work is in there.”
“It’s okay, sometimes I think the Lord wants us to stand up for ourselves don’t you think?” The woman put her hand on Becker’s cheek and the gesture almost made the child cry.While the nuns saw to their basic needs, affection wasn’t seen as something necessary.
“Thanks for understanding. I guess I was lucky today you were out here and not Sister Gertrude.”
“Don’t worry, today will be our little secret.” The woman smiled and went to the gutter to fish out Becker’s bag. “I have another one of these in my room if you want to use it. This one might have seen the last of its service today. Come on. Let’s go see if we can salvage anything in here.”
“Are you staying? At St. Genevieve’s I mean.” Becker accepted the woman’s hand and started off down the street with her headed for home.
“I’m sorry, I spent the day listening to Sister Gertrude tell me about all the children and I feel like we know each other already. I’m Sister Ruth and I asked to be placed at St. Genevieve.”
“Sister Gertrude isn’t like you…” Becker started but didn’t know how to finish the sentence without getting into further trouble.
“You know what else I believe God understands?” Becker shook her head and waited for the ruler to come out and wrap her hands hard. “That sometimes, even when you just meet someone, they are your friend, and friends don’t tell on other friends, at least not where I come from. Becker, would you like to be my friend?”
“More than anything.”
“Good. Will you promise me something else?”
Ernest and honest blue eyes never blinked as Becker looked up at her new friend. “Anything you want.”
“What you did today, while it isn’t something you should do often, wasn’t wrong. Standing up for yourself and for others who can’t fight for themselves is the sign of a true and good heart. What you have to learn is how to accomplish what you did today without your fists. The world is full of bullies and cowards who like to beat up on the weak, but the world is seriously lacking in those with good hearts.” Ruth put her hand on Becker’s cheek again and smiled. “Promise me you will always carry around that good heart and take up for those who can’t or won’t fight back.”
“I promise, Sister Ruth, I won’t let you down.”
That started a friendship that carried Becker for the next six years. Sister Ruth’s kind soul was the only thing she missed about St. Genevieve. Before her stood one of those bullies Sister Ruth taught her about and she was right, her fists weren’t what were needed this time around.
“How about a bet?” suggested Becker. The lesson she had in mind wasn’t for Claire, it was for Jolie, and it was to teach her how much Claire valued her.
“What kind of bet?” Claire put aside her anger and listened.
“I’ll trade you that chip,” she pointed to Jolie’s closed hand, “for something bigger.”
“What?” Just about anything was worth getting some money to start over. The night in Claire’s opinion was just a temporary set back.
“A million dollars for a night with your wife.”
“Are you insane?” The question came out of both Constance and Jolie’s mouths simultaneously. It didn’t surprise Becker that Claire stayed quiet.
“Let me finish.” The tall entrepreneur put her hands up and smiled. “A million dollars for one night, but Ms. Clement has to agree.”
“What, I don’t have to agree?” Claire cut in.
“Tell me you don’t agree and I’ll drop it. The offers’ good for the next ten seconds.” A good thirty went by with no objections from Claire. “Then it’s up to you, Ms. Clement.”
“You’re going to give me a million dollars to sleep with you?” She rolled the chip over in her hand to try and alleviate her nerves. “What were you saying about the things people do for no reason?” Jolie asked Constance.
“My deal is for the night, Ms. Clement. What we do with that night will be up to you.” Becker looked back to the table and nodded when more than one of the guys waved her back. “Think about it, I’ll be right over there.”
When Becker retook her place and was passed the dice, she called Chris over. “Call upstairs for me.”
“I can get you whatever you need, Becker.”
“I need you to raise the limits for one roll, just the one, and then I’ll be done for the night.”
“How much?” Chris was cleared to go a couple of hundred thousand then it would have to go upstairs. He knew it and so did she.
“A million on the pass line.”
He picked up the phone and waited for someone to answer. The conversation was brief before he started writing up a credit slip. “I know you’re good for it, but…”
“It’s a formality, I know,” Becker finished for him. She signed on the line and put the piece of paper on the table. The money was now in play.
The others passed on placing any bets. Whatever had happened right before Becker took this kind of chance was due their respect and their quiet. A twelve, a three or two now wouldn’t break her monetarily but it would certainly sting. She rubbed her hands together, found the one on the die and then the other. The right dice went on top of the left and she released a long breath before letting them fly.
Almost like they were watching a tennis mach, everyone standing around the table watched the red squares as they took flight. They hit the side of the table and rolled half way back before coming to a stop.
“Seven, winner,” the handler yelled.
“Bank it, Chris, and thanks guys.” Becker tossed enough chips on the table to make up a sizable tip. “Now you both know I’m good for it and I’m not kidding,” she told Claire and Jolie on the way out.
The blonde pocketed the chip in her hand and started for the elevator. Her partner followed silently not sure how to start the conversation they had to have. The one question in Claire’s head was the one she had no answer for. Was one night something you could forget? Could she take the money that would mean the fruition of every dream she could ever have, but live with the memory of where it came from, and what she had to sacrifice to get it?
“Can you believe her?” Jolie changed the combination on the safe so Claire couldn’t be tempted again.
“Uh huh.” The bed hardly bounced when Claire fell on it and looked up at the ceiling.
“You know, Claire, a bit of righteous indignation on my behalf wouldn’t hurt you right about now as far as I’m concerned. I mean some woman just offered a million to bed me. Doesn’t that bother you at all?”
“Of course it bothers me,” Claire’s voice faded away and she turned her head to look at Jolie.
“Oh why do I have the feeling there’s a ‘but’ at the end of that? There is, isn’t’ there?”
“I’m not going to win here, baby, so don’t ask me that unless you want me to be honest.”
Their relationship wasn’t perfect but this was the first time a block of ice formed in Jolie’s heart. “I want you to be honest.”
“It’s one night, honey. One. Just think what just one night gets us before you dismiss it. We get the bar, you a bigger place and a better house. Even with all that, we still have plenty left easy. All for one night.”
Sheer will kept Jolie from folding herself into a ball. “And you can just forget it happened?”
“I love you, and nothing you do for both of us is going to change that.”
“I see.” Jolie ran her hands over her face before looking at the woman she thought she knew. “I’m going for a walk – don’t follow me.”
In the lobby, she found a house phone, and one call later got her into the hotel’s private elevators. Becker was standing in the foyer of the room when the doors slid open. To her surprise, Jolie looked scared, with a good amount of disgust mixed in.
“A million for one night? Is that the deal?”
“I’m a business woman, Ms. Clement. I try to always be as direct and clear as possible.” Her hands were behind her back and Becker never moved any closer. No matter how attractive she had found this woman, this business deal would be the only thing between them ever. “If you don’t agree, then there are no hard feelings.” She turned and started back to the windows thinking the brief encounter was over. The elevator doors sliding closed in a soft whisper was the confirmation.
“I looked around here today while I took in the sights. I must have seen a thousand women better looking than me.”
Jolie’s voice had a husky hint to it, that made it sound soothing to Becker. “I’m sure if I went to a show, you’re right, I’d find as perfect a woman as any plastic surgeon could conceive of.” Below them, the fountains started their dance and Becker reached over and pressed a button. Music from Evita quietly infused the room with background music from the hidden speakers. Becker shrugged her shoulders and smiled when Jolie looked at her watch. Another unscheduled show because Becker wanted it.
“Then why not them?”
“Because I’m not interested in the thousand women you saw today, I’m interested in you.”
They didn’t turn and face each other but Jolie lifted her head and looked at Becker’s face in the reflection of the glass. “Enough to pay a million dollars for? Trust me I’m not worth that.”
“But I’m not anything special.” The emphatic statement was yelled across the small neat room and was meant to hurt the woman who had said otherwise. “I don’t matter to anyone. Even my parents didn’t hang around to see what I turned out to be.”
Ruth leaned against the door and let the emotions pour out of the young girl whom she’d come to love. She had answered her calling and devoted herself to God, but in Becker she’d found a way to make her service matter. For two years, she had endeavored to show the lonely girl that God had a plan for her, and the pain she’d endured fit into that. That was important, but so was showing her that someone cared that she existed, so Ruth became something Becker had never had. She became her friend and someone she could count on.
“I’m sure if it had been a multiple choice quiz, Beck, your parents wouldn’t have gone with the car crash answer. Come here.” Ruth opened her arms and waited. Sometimes the girl came right away and sometimes it took thirty minutes, but she always came. Today therestless beast in Becker wasn’t in the mood to be soothed and she kept up her pacing.
Their talk had started because of a story Ruth had told her about her sister. They were close growing up and the nun was going to Chicago for a couple of weeks to visit and meet her new nephew. Becker just knew it was an excuse and Ruth wasn’t telling her the truth. At the end of two weeks she’d be gone forever and that would be just one more person who had drifted in and out of her life, leaving only unfulfilled promises behind.
“Come here,” Ruth requested again. Two years had brought about some changes in Becker’s body. When they first met, and Ruth offered the comfort of a hug, she would run her fingers through the dark hair that rested on her shoulder. Now it was her head that rested on Becker’s. “I’m coming back I promise.”
“It’s okay if you don’t, and I’m sorry I yelled before. I didn’t mean it.” She squeezed Ruth a little tighter as if trying to memorize the feel of someone who was important to her. “You have your family and that’s a lot more important than me.”
“Is that what you think? That you aren’t important to me? That you aren’t worth another thought once I fly out of here?”
“I’m just someone you’re in charge of taking care of, Sister Ruth. I know it’s just a job.”
Ruth leaned back and placed her hands on the young open face. “You aren’t a job, and you’re worth the world to me.” Having Becker’s attention, Ruth tried something that would forever cement their bond. “I want you to do something for me while I’m gone. Will you consider giving what I’m going to ask you a shot?”
“I want you to think whatever you like while I’m gone, but when you see me back here giving you a hard time in two weeks, I don’t want you to ever doubt your self-worth again. You may be different because you don’t have a family, Becker, but it doesn’t make you worthless. You are unique, so in my eyes, that makes you priceless.”
Two weeks later Becker walked home from school so ready to prove Ruth wrong because, if Ruth was wrong, then it would be all right to just give up. It was the excuse she was looking for, to take the easy way the streets promised. Having the woman deceive her would be the perfect excuse to give into the temptations that enticed her every day as she walked through the French Quarter to and from school.
At the end of her walk, she entered the gates of St. Genevieve, and there was no Ruth to greet her, but there was a small gift on her bed with a note. Knowing you were right about something and finding it was true was more painful than Becker thought as she slumped down on the bed. It was how Ruth found her when she was done with her afternoon prayers.
“Didn’t you want to open it?”
Becker’s head snapped up at the sound of her voice and Ruth saw the tears the strong willed girl only shed when she was alone. “You came back.”
“I promised you I would, and I did.” The small cot creaked when Ruth took a seat next to her young charge. “And I believe you made me a promise as well. Always remember, Becker Gaudet, you are unique, so in my eyes, that makes you priceless. Because you are, I will be in your life watching you achieve great things as long as you want me in it.”
With the relish of a child, Becker ripped open the box and found a coin. On one side, it had an imprint of the globe, and on the other one short sentence.
Vast but not impossible.
“My sister kept this for me. It belonged to our grandfather.” Ruth held the coin up and studied the words again. “He always used to tell us that the world was a big and daunting place, but you could find all her hidden treasures, if you were willing to do one thing.”
Becker accepted this cherished gift back and closed her fingers around it. “What?”
“You must take the first step in that direction. Today you start walking and I can’t wait to see where you end up.”
“Ms. Clement, do you think in the whole of the world there is another person just like you?” Becker held her hand up to keep Jolie from answering. “Not just looks like you, but is just like you?”
“I doubt it.”
“You’re right, there isn’t. In the whole of the world you are the only one just like you.” Becker did turn away from the window and Jolie saw how blue her eyes looked in the pale light. “That makes you unique wouldn’t you say?”
“Don’t guess, be certain.”
“Yes, it makes me unique.” This wasn’t what she expected when she requested to see Becker, but then this whole trip had been anything but expected.
“Then never question your worth. You are unique, Ms. Clement, so in my eyes, that makes you priceless.” The silence between them after that was comfortable, and Becker went back to looking at the lights, feeling Jolie’s eyes still on her. In her pocket, the comfort of Ruth’s gift felt warm against her fingers. The coin was something she would never part with no matter how spectacular the prize.
It was getting late, or early, depending on how you looked at it. The sun would rise in about an hour and fatigue was setting in. “Could you give me thirty minutes?”
“Take your time, I’ll be here.”
“I just need to get my stuff then I’ll be back.” It was a promise, and with that, the die was cast. “Twenty-four hours from then right?”
“I don’t expect anything more.”
“You’re going to do it?” Claire followed her into the bathroom and watched as Jolie threw her things into her cosmetics bag. “Did you get something in writing? I don’t want her to renege if there’s something she doesn’t like.”
“I’ll try my best to fulfill her every whim.” The comment was dripping with so much sarcasm Claire felt like wiping her face. Wisely, she refrained from any other questions along those lines.
“Are you sure about this? It isn’t too late to back out.”
“Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.” She looked up at Claire’s refection in the mirror. “Only be honest so there won’t be regrets later.”
“I want you to do it, but only if you want to. This is our chance, baby. We get it all if it works out.”
“There’s our answer then.” She walked to the door to answer the knock. A porter smiled and took the small bag from her. “That too I guess,” Jolie pointed to the box that contained Becker’s gift. As soon as he had it in hand, they left without another word.
Two hours went by and the stillness of the room was still echoing with Jolie’s last words. That too I guess. She was planning to wear the dress that rich bitch had bought her, then take it off for her like the thousands of other hookers in Vegas. The thought of it was making Claire sick but she had given her consent. No matter what the money brought them, those words would forever be a taint between them. Not being able to stand it, she left and started walking. The next twenty-four hours would be an eternity.
“Ms. Clement, welcome.” Oscar stood where Becker had been earlier.
For a moment, Jolie thought she was in the wrong place but the man had addressed her by name. “Did she change her mind?”
“She’s taking a nap actually. We aren’t really used to keeping such late hours. I’m Oscar and I work for Becker.” He waved them in. “I’ll show you to your room then I’ll be on my way.” The size of the suite was impressive and Jolie’s brows hiked when she took in the bedroom Oscar escorted her into. “The maid drew you a hot bath if you’d like to relax and turned down the bed if you want to get some sleep. Beck should be up in a couple of hours.”
“No problem. If you need anything just pick up the phone and someone will take care of it for you.”
Jolie took a moment to just stand in the middle of the room and take some deep breaths. Once she was centered, she walked into the bathroom and smiled at the large tub full of bubbles. She undressed and sank down into the bubbles, and the hot water closing her eyes. The heat helped ease the pain she felt in her heart from how she and Claire had parted. After years of living with someone, it was a surprise to find that they could so callously throw away something that should have been sacrosanct.
It was the last thought she had before her head hit the pillow and sleep took away her worries of what was to come. The bath had also given her the opportunity to think about Becker and why she would waste some of their time together pampering Jolie alone. What seemed like only a few minutes later, she heard someone talking in the next room.
Jolie got dressed and walked out to the main room to join Becker. The woman’s voice sounded a little louder as she spoke into the phone mike clipped to her head. There was a television showing ESPN softly on one wall and someone had delivered coffee and food. Becker smiled and pointed to the coffeepot when she noticed the blonde standing at the very cusp of the room.
“Tell him one more day, Oscar, but he won’t get another cent until I talk to him, and if he thinks there’ll be any more money after the results I’ve seen, then he must think I live with my thumb up my ass.” She threw the mike on the sofa and turned to Jolie. “Sorry, I usually don’t sound like some uneducated ass, but some people bring out the worst in me.”
“I’m not that innocent, Becker.” She poured a cup of coffee and added cream and sugar. In an unconscious gesture, she combed a strand of hair behind her ear as she stirred the liquid. “I can call you Becker can’t I?”
“I think I would like that.” Becker bypassed the fruit and reached for a cheese Danish. “What would you like to do today?”
Jolie laughed and watched the huge bite of pastry that went into Becker’s mouth. How the woman kept so trim and fit if she ate like that was a mystery. “I think that’s more a question I should be asking you, don’t you think?”
“Can we make another deal right now?”
“Does it involve any more money?”
It was Becker’s turn to laugh. “No, no more money, and it won’t cost you anything else either. Can we agree that if I ask you something it’s because I’m interested in what you’d like or what you’re thinking?”
“I think we can do that.” Another bite of pastry disappeared and the way Becker smiled made Jolie think it was really good. “Do you usually eat like someone’s about to come around and take it out of your hand?” The unexpected blush that colored Becker’s cheeks made the blonde want to take the statement back. Especially when Becker put the treat down and looked a little haunted.
“I’m sorry.” It sounded more like Becker was apologizing to appease than because she knew what she had done wrong.
“No I’m sorry. Sometimes my mouth overrides my brain.” The apology was heartfelt but the pastry was left untouched. Jolie decided to try something Becker probably wasn’t expecting, if not the day would be long and stilted. She stood up and walked around the coffee table to the sofa where Becker was sitting. “Open up,” she ordered. When Becker did, the blonde shoved the rest of the Danish in her mouth. The action broke the ice between them and Becker was having a hard time chewing through her laughter. “Swallow and tell me what you want to do today?”
“Do you jitterbug?”
“As in dance?” Not being able to resist, Jolie brushed her fingertips along Becker’s chin. “Crumbs,” she offered in explanation. “I haven’t in years, but yes I do.”
“You know when I entered into this deal with you, I never realized what day it was.” Pale brows scrunched together as if Jolie didn’t understand what Becker had said. “I just thought I’d give you one more opportunity to back out and spend the day with Ms. Smith.”
“Actually I’d rather not do that even if you want to back out, but I am curious as to why you would think I would.”
“It might be Vegas and it might be Sunday, but it’s Valentine’s Day. I just thought you might not have realized it.”
The reaction Jolie had gotten when she asked Becker about her eating habits was the same reaction the tall woman got when she mentioned the day set aside for lovers. There was no blush but the same look of sadness entered the green eyes and she was sorry she’d mentioned it.
“It’s not really a special day for us no matter what we’re doing. Claire and I aren’t really romantic people.”
“To each his own I guess, so how would you like to go to a party with me? I was going to skip it, but now that I have a date, it might be fun,” teased Becker.
“Sounds like fun.”
Becker reached for the phone, and when they entered the elevator, Jolie was surprised when they went up instead of down. On the roof, a helicopter was waiting for them and the pilot waved from the cockpit as one of the ground crew took care of the door. Once they were safely inside sitting in comfortable leather seats and the door slid closed, the cabin was so well insulated they could barely hear the roar of the prop.
“Are you sure jeans are fine?” Jolie asked for the fifth time.
“I’m sure jeans are fine,” reassured Becker, making it sound like she would continue to do so no matter how many times the blonde asked.
“Then why aren’t you wearing a pair?” It had only been two days since they’d met but Jolie had yet to see Becker in anything besides tailored slacks and equally good looking shirts. The tan pants and suede jacket was as casual as she’d seen the woman dress.
“Because I never wear jeans no matter what.”
The wheels of the craft left the hotel roof and Jolie was temporarily distracted with looking out the window. In seconds, they were leaving the strip behind and flying over Lake Mead to wherever they were going.
“We’re actually heading in the opposite direction but whenever I go up in this thing I love taking the long way around,” explained Becker as they moved closer to one of the most inspirational spots in America, in her opinion. “Whenever I have a project going on and it seems like nothing is going right, like is happening right now, I think about this site.”
Jolie looked down on an impressive view of the Hoover Dam. The pilot circled once to give them another look before heading west. “Why here?”
“In the middle of a depression President Hoover set out to build this place, and through American ingenuity and drive, they completed it in less than ten years. It makes me believe that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. Time and hard work can build miracles, if you apply yourself.”
They could’ve been flying over the most beautiful sights in the world and Jolie still would’ve turned away from the window and looked at her hostess. Becker acted and spoke like no one she’d ever met. “You sound like a person who’s done just that.” She reached out and punched the tall woman lightly on the shoulder. “After all you can afford to pay a million dollars for a date, so I’m guessing time and hard work have made you very successful.”
Becker laughed and tried to look humble. “Something like that. I actually have been very lucky and caught some breaks along the way. It’s not all that hard to achieve success.”
“Uh huh,” Jolie wasn’t fooled and Becker could hear it in her voice. “We’ll get back to that but for now tell me why you don’t wear jeans.”
“Once upon a time I used to work on a rig out in the Gulf as a rough-neck. It was actually the first job I had after I finished high school, and it didn’t exactly leave you spotless after a twelve-hour shift. The only thing that kept all that mud and other stuff coming out of the hole from getting on your skin was denim. After years of wearing that for some really long and dirty days, I started my own company and swore I’d never put on another pair.” She picked at the crease of her pants and shrugged. The action was something she did when she was at a loss for words and Jolie was starting to pick up on that.
“Well work jeans and jeans are two different things and if we have time I might show you that. You bought me a beautiful dress, which is something I don’t normally wear, so if you want, I’ll return the favor and introduce you to the new world of denim.”
The helicopter raced toward the state line and soon the buildings of Los Angeles came into view. The pilot kept going though, until the Pacific waters were in sight, and they kept that course until the houses started to get further and further apart signaling they were leaving the urban sprawl for the big money homes. To own this much coastline in California put you in a league few would ever achieve.
“Do you ever pump Hugo gas?” Jolie nodded at the question. “The CEO of the company Huey and his wife Connie live just down the way there.” The blonde looked to where Becker was pointing and a castle like home sat majestically on a hillside over looking the blue water. “They met on Valentine’s Day in high school eons ago, as she tells it, and they have celebrated the anniversary ever since. No matter what day of the week it falls on, they have a big party and hire a big band so they can jitterbug. I try to make it when I’m in town but it’s been a few years. If it sounds too corny for you, we don’t have to stay long.”
“I forgot to ask you something?”
“Ask away, Ms. Clement.”
“Actually I need to ask you two things.” She looked back at the house that was getting closer and noticed there was more than one helicopter parked in the open land around the house. “First, will you please call me Jolie? If you don’t, I won’t dance with you. Which leads me to my original question, do you jitterbug, Becker?”
Memories of a rainy day spent with Ruth listening to the radio came to mind. Her mentor had endured her big feet until she got the steps down. That day when she twirled the young woman so devoted to God around the wimple had come off and it was the first time Becker had seen the beautiful blonde hair it hid. The sight had made her stop and stare until Ruth blushed from the scrutiny.
“Maybe I should ask about the girl who caused that look on your face?” Jolie finished with an unexpected question.
“Just thinking of the day I learned to dance is all, so yes I do know a few steps. I promise to try and stay off your feet.”
She waited to see if there would be more, but Becker fell silent and stayed that way until they were seated in the jeep that had come to pick them up and bring them to the house. “And the girl?” Jolie tried again.
Before she answered, Becker took out the coin in her pocket. The words inscribed on it were getting worn from the touch of her fingers but they were still legible. “The girl, as you put it, taught me that nothing is impossible when it came to what I set as my goals.” Jolie read the line and waited for Becker to finish. “The other thing she taught me was there are some things that are too vast to ever be possible no matter how much you might want them.”
“Her loss for not giving you the chance.”
The dark head shook as Becker accepted the coin back and put it in her pocket. “It was me who walked away before she comprised something she believed in deeply.” There was a part of her heart that had held out hope she and Ruth would someday grow to be something more, but it was a child’s dream that died in the face of reality. “I think that I would’ve always fallen short of her first choice.”
Jolie reached for Becker’s hand and sandwiched it between both of hers. “This may be a guess on my part, but you’re a wonderful person with a good heart. If she didn’t see that then she’s a fool.”
“I paid you to go out with me,” Becker reminded her.
“True, but that doesn’t make you a monster.”
“Okay, let me put it this way, she was already married to someone else.”
The hand was dropped instantly and Jolie’s face became guarded. “So you make a habit of this do you?”
“Her name is Ruth and she’s married to God.” The look she was getting only intensified so Becker’s words sped up. “She’s a nun, Jolie, and she helped raise me.” In as short an explanation as she could think to give, Becker gave her a history lesson on Becker Gaudet and her upbringing. “So you see, even though our ages really aren’t that far apart, and no matter how wonderful I think I am, it’s hard to compete with the perfect Guy.” Becker got another shot to the shoulder for the corny ending, but Jolie’s smile was back in place.
They mingled for the first hour and Becker introduced her to the people she knew, making Jolie feel like they really were out on a date. When the music started, she forgot about Claire and all the betrayal she’d woken up with, and followed Becker’s lead on the dance floor. No matter how strange their arrangement, Jolie found that when Becker lowered her defenses and smiled, it was hard to resist having a good time.
They were waiting for the jeep to bring them to their ride back to Vegas when Connie and Huey came out to say goodbye. During the afternoon Jolie had learned that the nice older man had been instrumental in Becker getting her start. A start the tall woman paid back in full within a year with more than money. She was a loyal friend and came whenever Huey was having trouble with his health or his business.
“My dear, Huey and I wanted to come and tell you how pleased we were to meet you. I haven’t seen Beck smile this much in forever.” Connie pulled Jolie aside as their partners talked about business. “I hope you know you’re invited back next year.”
It wasn’t in Jolie’s heart to tell the woman the truth about the arrangement between them. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Hugo, I had a wonderful time.”
“Please, it’s Connie, and I meant what I said. Even if the workaholic can’t make it, you are more than welcome. Before today I didn’t even think she could dance and only came to humor me.” They both looked to Becker who was at the moment hugging Huey goodbye. “She is remarkable isn’t she?”
“I haven’t known her for very long, but I have to agree.”
The ride back to the Bellagio was made in the comfortable silence they seemed to enjoy together, and before Jolie was ready, they were back in Becker’s suite. The breakfast food had long been cleared away and a beautiful bouquet of flowers now sat on the table.
“How did you know these were my favorite?” Jolie ran her finger along a line of deep violet in the mostly white Stargazer Lilly. They had talked a little about their jobs on the flight out and Becker had no trouble picturing Jolie bringing joy to people with flowers.
“I called Oscar when you were in the bathroom and he called your shop. A nice young woman who works for you was more than helpful.” There was a stack of phone messages next to the arrangement but Becker had no desire to pick them up for the moment. “Would you like to have dinner with me?”
“I think we established I’m yours for the night.”
“I think we established that we wouldn’t do anything you’re not comfortable with, so would you like to have dinner with me?”
Jolie forgot the flowers and walked to where Becker was standing. She slowly lifted her hands and placed them on the strong looking chest. “I would be honored to have dinner with you, if you ask me for something that you want.”
“The dress,” Becker’s voice broke a little and she had to stop and clear her throat. “Would you wear the dress?”
“Meet you back out here in an hour?”
The dark head nodded and Jolie smiled a bit at the blush on the good-looking face. “Take all the time you need.”
Jolie walked to the room she’d been given for the day and vowed to take just enough time to make herself presentable. Unless Becker changed dramatically in the next few hours, this experience wouldn’t be the nightmare she had feared it would be.
They walked through the casino close together but not touching. A pair of sullen gray eyes followed their progression taking in the smile on Jolie’s face. The blonde hair was pinned up and the dress Becker had given her fit like it was made specifically for her. To anyone else watching they looked like a couple who had been together for years, but Claire knew better. Jolie looked like she had fallen into her role as a whore quite nicely.
At the entrance to the casino shops, they descended an escalator and were escorted to an area Becker had reserved for the night. Off to the side of the Prime restaurant was a balcony that overlooked the fountains the casino was famous for. The space was filled with flowers, and at the center, sat one table illuminated by candlelight. It was the perfect place to enjoy the free show that would be cued up every fifteen minutes.
“They’re known for their steaks here but if you don’t care for that, you can order what ever style of food you like and it won’t be a problem,” Becker explained as she pulled out her chair. Nearby a waiter popped open a bottle of champagne and poured two glasses.
The meal was as perfect as the setting and they sat and talked about a variety of things. On the way back to the room, Jolie took Becker’s offered arm for the walk and she fell silent not sure about how this night would end. When the elevator door closed behind them, Becker turned on the stereo and put her hand out in invitation. Jolie accepted and they started to dance to the slow romantic music Becker had chosen.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Jolie, you can ask me anything.”
“Why did you really do all of this?” Becker’s hand felt hot and the material of her jacket felt soft against her cheek. “You had to realize I was satisfied with the money you gave us initially with no questions asked. All this was unnecessary.”
“When I was twelve, I met a woman who was the first person in my life to love me, and the first person to notice I existed. Sister Ruth wasn’t much older than I was really, but she was so much more than my caretaker and mentor, she was and still is the only family I have, aside from Oscar. The day we met, I was being bullied by a group of idiots who roamed the neighborhood looking for people weaker than themselves to harass.”
Jolie reached up and let her hair down, shaking her head to loosen the blonde locks into falling around her shoulders. “You don’t exactly strike me as someone I’d pick on.”
“When Sister Ruth walked up I was actually holding my own and punching everyone I could reach. If you have any experience with nuns, you’d know it’s big trouble to be doing that within eyesight of those black robes.” Becker smiled when Jolie looked up at her and smiled. “I thought I was in for a knuckle rapping with the infamous ruler they all seem to carry, when instead, she explained that it was all right to take up for yourself if the situation called for it. In fact it was a sin to not fight for those who can’t or won’t fight for themselves.”
“That sounds noble, but what does it have to do with me?”
Becker released Jolie’s hand and ran her fingers along the blonde’s cheek. “Sometimes it’s the battles we don’t acknowledge that are the hardest to fight.”
The way the blue eyes took her in made Jolie want to cry. “What do you mean?”
“At first you reminded me of her, or at least what Ruth would have been like before she took her vows. Then I saw you again in that boutique and I saw you weren’t like her at all. You’re a beautiful woman who made vows of her own, and as much as I wanted to ignore it, I saw the ring on your finger.” The fingers moved again down to Jolie’s neck. “Then I met the woman you share your life with and decided to fight.”
“Do I look like someone who needs defending?” There was no malice in her question but Jolie’s smile faded some. She was tired of strong women who felt they knew what she needed better than she did.
“What you have with Claire is none of my business, Jolie, and today wasn’t about trying to change that.”
“Then what was it about?”
“I think the battle I wanted to fight was to do everything in my power to remind you that you are unique.” Becker lowered her head and kissed her forehead. “It might have been wrong, but I wanted to show you just how unique you are and how beautiful you are because of it.”
“But the money…I thought…”
“The money is still yours, but this is where our time together ends.”
It was a gift, a way out without comprising anything, but Jolie didn’t feel relief, just a little disappointed. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but you don’t want me?”
Becker looked at her before lowering her head again. This time her lips pressed up against Jolie’s with the serious intent of showing her just how much she was wanted. It made the blonde close her eyes and fall against the tall body as Becker’s tongue asked for admittance that was readily granted. Maybe it was because it was someone new and the situation was a little unorthodox, but Jolie got caught up in the moment. She was left dazed when Becker pulled away and just held her.
“Not want you? You can’t think that.” She kissed the top of the blonde head and held Jolie a little longer. “I just want you to walk out of here gaining something and not feeling as if you’ve lost something no one can ever give you back.” Long fingers tapped over her heart. “Something in here that no amount of money can replace.” They shared one more short kiss before Becker did pull away completely. “Be well, Jolie, be happy, and thank you for the day.”
The finality of it made Jolie notice the bags by the door. “You’re leaving?”
“The room is yours as long as you need it, and Constance is around if you need anything and to get your bank information to make the transfer. I’m going back tonight so you won’t have to worry about anything.” She turned her back on the petite woman so she wouldn’t see her eyes. “I hope things work out with Claire.” For once Becker figured Ruth would forgive her the lie.
With that, a porter arrived when Becker called for the elevator and she was gone.
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