The Anti-Whore

Kak shrank in her chair. Mama Zamira had seen them. Well. Not them. She’d seen Rudy. Here she came, nothing like the Zamira that Kak had left at the Southernmost Point. This Zamira beamed. She rushed up to Rudy and threw her arms around his neck, squeezing him tight. 

“I’m so sorry about your father,” she said, planting a kiss on his cheek. She released him and stiffened at the sight of Kak.

“You’re with this one?” Zamira asked.

“This is Kak,” Rudy said.

“So,” Zamira said, still locked on Kak. “That’s how you got in.”

“Got in?” Rudy asked, trying to catch up.

Mercifully, this drew Zamira’s attention back to Rudy. She crossed her arms in a scolding manner.

“You’re engaged. And I find out like this?”

“Engaged? You know me better than that.”

“This isn’t your fiancé?”

“What? We met yesterday. On Sanibel.” He focused on Kak for agreement. She didn’t dare answer. In spite of the Sloppy Rita, her mouth had grown so dry since seeing Zamira that her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

Zamira mused over this. “I guess I got the wrong idea,” she said. 

“Maybe,” Rudy said, “you ladies could tell me what’s going on.”

“Maybe you could introduce us,” Zamira said. 

“Ah. Right, I guess. It just seemed like the two of you had already, um, anyway Kak, this is Liliana. Carter’s girlfriend. Lili, this is Kak. We just met—“

“Yesterday,” Liliana finished for him. “On Sanibel.”

Liliana, or Mama Zamira, or whomever she was, lowered herself to Kak’s level. She studied the crescent moon bruise. Clucked her tongue. “You should be more careful.”

Carter swept in, pulling Liliana away, lifting and kissing and swinging her as they spun off together.  

Kak flooded her mouth with the last of the Sloppy Rita to free her tongue. “I’m officially confused,” she said.

“Liliana Zamira Quintero,” Rudy said. “Zamira is her professional name. Her friends call her Lili.” He drained the rest of his beer. “But you seem to have met.”

“I might have run into her.”

“Run into her?” he questioned. “Hence the bruise?”

“That came after.”

“You told her we were engaged?”

“She misunderstood.”

Kak avoided him, instead watching Carter and Liliana make out like college sweethearts, her toes still dangling at his shins.

“What in the world did you say to give her that impression?” Rudy asked.

Kak would have constructed a reasonable half-truth to get past this, but a change in the dynamic between Carter and Liliana pulled her attention away. The two now stood face to face, except that each had taken a step back, outside the range lovers inhabit, a thousand miles from their entwined embrace.

“Let’s go somewhere and talk alone,” she said, reaching for his hand to pull him away.

“Bullshit,” Carter said. “I’m in the middle of my birthday party. You can tell me right here.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“See, that’s your problem. You’re thinking again. Let’s have it, chubs.”

“I’m not getting fat. Never mind. I am getting fat but not the way you think.”

Carter’s exasperation built as she spoke.

“Spill!” he said.

Liliana slowly untied her robe, her hands trembling. She parted the fabric, exposing just enough of her skin to make it evident that she’d either developed a beer gut or a baby bump.

Carter’s expression softened. “I’m a complete jackass,” he said.

“I told you we should go somewhere private,” Liliana said. From her demeanor, she had no idea what response was coming.

Carter stepped toward her and threw his arms around her. He kissed the top of her head.

“We need champagne!” he announced. “Never mind. I’ll get it.”

While Carter made for the bar, Liliana retied her robe and stepped to the table. She was regaining her composure and even managed a nervous smile at Rudy. 

“He’s taking this awfully well,” she said. “Or am I crazy?”

“You’re the sanest person I ever met,” Rudy said. “Congratulations, Lili. You’ll be a great mother.”

Nothing in his face matched the optimism in his words. To Kak’s ear, it sounded forced.

“And the two of you,” Liliana said. “You just ran into each other on Sanibel.”

“She ran into me, actually,” Rudy said.

“Really,” Liliana said.

Kak watched Liliana calculate her next words. The exchange with Carter appeared to have smoothed her edges somewhat. 

“Why Sanibel?” Liliana asked. 

Fortunately, Rudy answered. “To scatter my father’s ashes.”

This diverted Liliana’s attention, if only temporarily. “I’m sure that was hard for you.”

“It was more challenging than expected,” he said. “I’ll tell you that.”

Liliana’s concern was short-lived. She came back to Kak. “And what were you doing on Sanibel?”

Had she forgotten? Or was she just giving Kak the chance to come clean before outing her?

“I was. Well. Running on the beach,” Kak said. 

Liliana waited, clearly expecting more. Maybe she really was going to blow the lid off, here and now. The tension tightened Kak’s throat.

Rudy laughed, breaking the tension. “Who’s going to let me in on the secret?”

“Secret?” Liliana said, watching Kak. “Whatever it is,” Rudy said. “It didn’t exactly make you sisters.”

Before either could answer Carter careened in with three bottles of champagne under each arm, a cup of watery orange juice, a bottle of water and a tall stack of plastic cups. Kak and Rudy helped unload his goodies onto the table.

“Think you got enough?” Liliana asked.

“I have a whole contingency to support,” Carter said, waving an arm over the growing cluster of friends amassed around their table. “But none for you.” He handed her the cup. “OJ and tonic water.” Liliana blushed over the doting as Carter popped the cork on a bottle and poured an inch of liquid into three plastic cups. “It’s now a birthday party slash baby shower,” he said.

Rudy opened the other bottles and splashed mouthfuls of champagne into sixty-some cups while Kak passed them through the birthday crowd. What the hell was she doing here? Waitressing? It had taken a wrong turn. And why were these people gathered to celebrate a complete stranger’s birthday? 

The Dolly Lllamas took a break and Carter took advantage. He stepped onto the seat of his chair, raising his cup and his voice. “I’d like to propose a toast to a beautiful lady.” This brought a rumbling of cheers from his birthday revelers.

“It’s a very special night,” he went on. The clatter of the packed establishment began to wane respectfully. “We celebrate something wonderful. Something sacred. Maybe the most optimistic thing we do as human beings. Tonight we celebrate the announcement of new life. A baby.”

Swells of approving murmurs and applause ran through the crowd. People raised their glasses. Carter motioned for Liliana to stand.

“This amazing woman is with child. We’ve known each other exactly one year tonight. During that time we’ve grown closer than I can tell you. And tonight, I couldn’t be prouder.”

Liliana beamed to the point of tears. Carter towered on his chair, dining on the human energy of a room hanging on his every pronouncement. Only Rudy seemed untouched by it. He watched, his expression flat and detached. Why? Had she read both he and Carter wrong? 

“And if the father was here,” Carter continued, “I’d buy that sonofabitch a beer.”

The mixture of laughter and bemused glances went through the crowd like a shiver. Patrons sitting below Carter waited for him to laugh, too, in admission of the joke he’d just told. Kak didn’t move her head. She used the corner of her eye to find Liliana, to note the hopeful amusement balanced delicately on her brow. It couldn’t last. It wasn’t a joke. How could Kak already know what Liliana didn’t?

Kak counted down in her mind. She couldn’t help it. Three. Two. And at one, Liliana would know. It came on cue. Kak watched it eclipse Liliana’s radiant face like the shadow of the moon. Now she knew what Kak knew. What Rudy knew. That Carter Bliss, for all his wit and charm, didn’t understand who the father was.

“So let’s end the suspense,” Carter said. “Who is this guy and when do we get to meet him?”

The crowd sat mesmerized, peering from Carter to Liliana and back to Carter. The Dolly Llamas had returned to the stand but stood silent, their instruments forgotten. The staff paused at their blender buttons and table wiping. From two tables away a lime being shoved into a bottle of Corona plopped into the cerveza inside. It practically echoed. There wasn’t a soul in the place that could tear his or her attention away from the head-on collision being played out in slow motion before them.

Liliana broke the silence. “You’re the father, you idiot.” The absolute silence allowed her words to settle into every corner of the bar.

Watching Carter, it was hard to tell if it registered. He surveyed the inhabitants of his Fortress of Screwitude as if someone in that congregation would confirm or decode what had just been said. Finally, his wandering gaze came to rest on Liliana. He stared at her, blankly, in a way that made the fifteen feet of distance between them seem much wider. When he finally moved, only his arm stirred, raising the cup to his lips to drain the champagne into his mouth. He let the empty cup drop to the floor and said, “Are you addressing me?”

“I told you we should talk in private.”

“I’d say that ship has sailed.”

“You don’t listen.”

“Over the horizon.”

“Let’s find someplace quiet,” she said, lowering her voice as if she could conceal the conversation from the mesmerized crowd.

Carter casually scanned the bar. “Pretty damned quiet in here.”

“Carter—“ Liliana started.

“What are you trying to pull?” he asked.

Her mouth opened again, apparently more from surprise than to form words, and he took full advantage of her temporary loss of words.

“How do you even know it’s mine?” he asked. “Did you pick my name out of a hat? Compare salaries and go with the best provider?”

“Carter.”

“Maybe I want a DNA test.”

“That isn’t necessary.”

“I think it is.”

“Carter. Please.”

“Carter, please,” he mimicked. He put a hand over his mouth in mock surprise. “Did your little shells tell you it was me?”

“We don’t need a test,” she said, shrugging off the insult.

“Why not?”

“Because I was a virgin when we met.”

“That was a year ago.” She waited. Carter stared, stone-faced. She gave up.

“You’re the only man I’ve ever been with.”

Half the people in the place stopped breathing. The other half caught its breath in a collective gasp.

“Oh, shut up,” Carter boomed over the barroom.

“So you don’t need to spend money on a test,” Liliana said.

“You’re trying to sell it that I’m the only guy?”

“There’s nothing to sell.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Why?”

Carter snorted at this, obviously enjoying a game he could not lose. “Because you have a massage business.”

Liliana frowned. “What about it?”

He waited again, searching back and forth over the crowd, as if someone else might jump in and explain it to her. No one dared speak. He completed a clumsy pirouette, his hands in the air, no longer able to contain himself. “You have a massage business!”

“You said that.”

“And this whole time, I’ve been your only customer?” Carter raised his hands another few inches to emphasize his point.

“Shit, Carter,” Liliana said, shaking her head as if it might cancel out the reality dawning on her. “I don’t fuck my massage customers.”

Carter did absolutely nothing but watch Liliana for the thirty seconds it took for this to sink in.

“You fucked me,” he said.

“What?”

“You—”

“I liked you. Oh, my God. After all this time? You think I’m some kind of prostitute?”

“No. I just thought you were—” He paused and gestured aimlessly.

“You thought I was what?”

“Some kind of, I don’t know, rubdown whore.”

“A rubdown what?”

“Don’t get mad. It’s understood.”

“So the money is for the massage and I just screw them afterward because I’m a slut?”

“Something like that.”

“The joke’s on you, asshole. You’re the only one I ever did it with.”

“Bullshit.”

“Only you.”

He searched the ceiling. “Why?” he asked. Kak couldn’t tell if he was directing the question to Liliana or God.

“Because you’re cute and funny and clever,” Liliana said. “You have a great body. The massage was like foreplay.”

This seemed to make Carter feel better about the situation. He let this sink in to all the men in the place. It took no time for the gratification to pass.

“And then you ruined it,” he said. He’d stopped talking to Liliana. He was addressing the crowd.

“Don’t do that,” she said.

“I thought we had something.”

“What? We did. We do.”

“Until you trapped me.”

She gasped. “We were both there, Carter.”

“Sure,” he said. “Both there. Two consenting adults. One in the spirit of passion and romance. The other in the spirit of how do I get my hooks into this guy. When did you stop taking the pill?”

Liliana froze, too traumatized to speak.

Carter hopped down from the chair and covered the distance to Liliana much to quickly. He stopped short of her, pointing a digit at her midsection.

“When did you stop?” he asked.

“When did you ever think about protection? You never wore a rubber.”

“That’s like wearing a raincoat in the shower, baby.”

She cradled her small pouch as if protecting it from the attack. “It just happened, Carter. Some things just happen. And I was excited.”

“I bet you were. Thinking you finally locked up a steady source of income, insurance, 401K.”

“You’re a bastard.”

“No, you’re carrying the bastard, sweetie.”

She considered the cup of sparkling OJ.

Throw it, Kak thought. Right in his kisser. Get mad. Liliana drained it into her mouth, swallowing it in one gulp. She wound up and threw the empty cup, bouncing the light receptacle harmlessly off Carter’s forehead.

He didn’t even blink. “That’s it?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was beneath me.”

“Screw sorry. You know what I want to hear.”

“That I’m scared? That I’m excited? Both?”

“That you did it on purpose.”

“Don’t say that again.”

“You got knocked up on purpose.”

“Pregnant,” Kak interjected without knowing why.

This brought Carter’s heavy glare down on her. 

“Married woman get pregnant,” he said. “Lili, did I miss the ceremony? Are you married?”

Liliana said nothing.

“Then you’re knocked up,” Carter said, glaring at Kak.

Liliana finally showed the first signs of anger. It was about time.

“You think I waited all this time to get pregnant?” she asked. “If I wanted to trap you with a baby I would have done it when we met.”

“That’s how the long con works,” Carter said. He took an open bottle of champagne from the table. “It’s perfect because it isn’t obvious. I give you credit. Really.”

“I can’t believe I was excited.” She started for the exit.

You can’t just walk out, Kak thought.

Liliana stopped and looked at Kak. So did Carter. The whole place gawked at her. She hadn’t thought the words. She’d actually said them. Out loud.  

“That’s sweet,” Carter said. “Your new friend is helping you out.” He tipped the bottle and took a long pull. The frothy liquid escaped the seal between lips and bottle, spilling down his shirt. He wiped his mouth.

“Here’s the defining question,” he went on. But when he opened his mouth to deliver it nothing came out.

Kak watched his mouth work. Was he actually getting choked up? Liliana moved a step toward him. Again, he attempted to form words, but his lips and tongue searched in vain. Just when it seemed he might give up, he dragged a damp sleeve across his face, wiping away any uncertainty. When the words came out they were cloaked in the fabric of a man betrayed.

“How could you not cheat on me,” he said.

Liliana blinked. “What?”

“I trusted you. How could you insult my intelligence like that?”

“You’re upset with me for being faithful to you?”

“You knew how much it would hurt me. You did it anyway.”

“Carter, I knew you had other women. That doesn’t mean I wanted other men.”

“You know what they say. Faithful to me once, shame on you. Faithful to me twice, shame on me.”

“No one says that.”

“I just did.”

“Because you’re drunk.”

“I need to be. It keeps me from sinking to your level.”

“My level? You’re unbelievable.”

“Save the compliments for the bedroom, baby.”

“Okay. Now that I know the rules, I can fix it. I’ll fuck Rudy. Would that make you happy?”

“He had his chance.”

“Is that what it was to you?” Lilian asked. “Your chance?”

“This isn’t on me. You made me think you were a whore. You got me all comfortable with it so you could use it to betray me. Do you know what that makes you? Something much worse.”

“What, Carter? What does it make me?”

Carter inhaled deeply and thrust a finger toward the ceiling. “The anti-whore.”

Liliana had almost reached her limit. “That’s not a bad thing,” she said. 

“It all depends on the context.”

“Don’t bring up context to me. Don’t start that shit again.”

“How could you be faithful to me? How?”

“Carter–“

“I deserve an answer.”

“We’re not doing this.”

“Why did you choose me to fuck?”

“I explained that.”

“I want to know why, of all the guys you ever met, you picked me to fuck?”

“We’ll talk in the morning.”

“WHY DID YOU FUCK ME?” he yelled.

“Because I had ninety seconds to kill,” Liliana spat. She pulled her shoulders back, defiant, fed up.

It didn’t happen immediately. Carter inhaled, the trace of a grin forming on his lips. It happened when he exhaled. And she never saw it coming. His right hand moved with startling speed. It snaked out and caught her full on the left cheek, spinning her head to her right, her body stumbling after it before she caught herself.

The bar caught its collective breath. Kak drank it in, afraid Rudy would do something now. Afraid he’d defend her. The fascinating thing was that he wasn’t even watching. His attention was on the steady stream of humanity flowing past on Duval. He didn’t stray from it. Puzzling.

The nearest bartender leaned out over his idle blender of strawberry daiquiris. “Buddy,” he said. “I can have the cops here in two minutes.”

To watch Carter, one would think he’d just been told the funniest joke he’d ever heard. He began to convulse in silent amusement. It gradually became audible, like the clucking of a chicken, until it grew to a bellow as he flushed bright crimson. A mixture of champagne and saliva slipped from his mouth, hanging from his chin in a long string. Kak thought of the strand of semen connecting Philip’s spent penis to the examining room floor.

Liliana watched Carter, her hand barely touching the reddening blotch where she’d been struck. By the time Carter came up for air he was purple. 

“Go ahead,” he gasped. “She won’t press charges. Will you, baby?”

“No,” she said. She walked past him, through the mute crowd and out into the street.

“Happy fucking birthday to me!” Carter yelled after her. The silent gawkers were still absorbed in him, but not with amusement or admiration as before. Now the expressions ranged from fear to contempt. Previously devoted subjects dragged their chairs away from his table to other spots or just walked away with their drinks.

“Sue me,” Carter said, quietly. “I thought she fucked ‘em.”

Click the link below to get the book for 99 cents.

The Gods of Sanibel – Kindle edition by Cook, Brian. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

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