He wanted her to be on her “best behavior.” He didn’t say so in so many words, but it was implied in his manner. His clipped instructions about how one ought to prepare artisanal guacamole and such. Which did not include drinking vodka, no matter how diluted with Fresca each of her glasses might have been (not very). He intimated this not with parlance, but with his judgmental gaze. As though to say, “Do you really need to have another drink right now, when we’re preparing for guests?” The answer, on Rihannon’s part, was a resounding yes, for the particular guests coming were Chad’s friends from Princeton, whom she had never met and whom she imagined were very careful about differentiating between “who” and “whom.”
They had been together for six months now, a long enough time in Chad’s circle to warrant introducing her in an official capacity to his clucking clique. If she passed that test, then, maybe, at the end of the year, for Thanksgiving or Christmas, she would be deemed suitable to present to his parents. That was how a man like Chad operated in his relationships, and Rhiannon knew that from the outset, having met him while working as a server at a catered event for the hedge fund company where he was a real “hotshot.” It was an outdoor affair on a boat that didn’t ever leave the dock of Pier 66 in the Hudson Yards. Which, as far as Rhiannon was concerned, was probably for the best. The last thing she wanted was to somehow be stuck on a sinking ship with rich people that likely wouldn’t spare her a life jacket. The metaphor for how they treat those beneath them manifested into the literal would be too much for her to bear.
Yet as she took her fifteen-minute cigarette break, she found that Chad did not seem to be like the others. For one thing, he actually smoked–not even any of her coworkers appeared to anymore, favoring a vape or waiting until work was over to simply get shit-faced as a means of vice-indulging. So it was an automatic endearment to Rhiannon that Chad should ask if she had a light, striking up a conversation with her as he also struck the match from the matchbook she handed him. It bore the logo of San Luis Obispo’s Madonna Inn, prompting Chad to ask, “I’ve always wanted to go here actually. Looks… interesting.” And just like that, Chad provided the boner killer Rhiannon needed to view him as nothing more than a curiosity. Anyone who wielded the euphemism of “interesting” for that which was camp didn’t fit into her life. And then, in one fell swoop, he negated all of her judgments by being bold enough to say, “I’d love to go there with you sometime… are you a California girl?”
The line was so cheesy, so male-entitled in its forwardness–and yet, it got to Rhiannon, who had given up on the idea that any men had the courage to ask her out beyond the usual one-night stand… which she was usually the one to initiate anyway. She was so taken aback by his directness that it left enough of a window for him to kiss her. She didn’t back away, but just let it happen. One could say she had been just “letting it happen” with him ever since. He was so assertive and dominant that it was almost impossible to resist his will. She imagined many men born into affluence were that way, accounting for why the power structure in this world was so fucked. They had all simply grown used to getting their way, bulldozing anyone else out of it with a shruggingness that came with the clout of money.
She saw the phenomenon in action every time they went out, in even the smallest of gestures–from not having to wait for a table to being bumped to the front of any line at the latest opening. It awed her, and, at the same time, disgusted her. Though she couldn’t say if she was more disgusted with him for his expected and accepted way of life, or herself for now being a party to it. She frequently felt as though she was going along for the ride merely as a sociological study, and would then remember that, yes, she actually had developed real feelings for him, even if she couldn’t logically explain why. That was love, wasn’t it? A totally irrational devotion to someone. At least that’s what all the literature and cinema she had grown up with had conditioned her to believe.
So she ignored it when Chad would start being more open about berating her, critiquing what she was wearing here and her preferred topics of discussion (mainly pop culture) there. It was getting to a point where she was being conditioned to question everything she thought and did before she exhibited it to Chad, as though wanting to ensure in some way that she would filter her true self enough to be likable to him. Worst of all, she found out that his smoking that day they met was only a one-off, a reason to talk to her–thus, she was forced to give that “nasty habit” up, too. In fact, Chad was an oddly big believer in the Margaret Thatcher platitude, “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” For fuck’s sake, Maggie–melodramatic much? What the fuck was so great about your destiny of becoming one of the most hated prime ministers in the UK’s history anyway? Rhiannon would seethe to herself as she stared at the framed quote of it in Chad’s South Street Seaport apartment, complete with an elevator that opened right into his apartment–because yeah, that’s just who Chad was.
She had a few hours to herself before he would show up to help her with the preparations for the dinner party–making the hors d’oeuvres, setting the table, curating a playlist–all the small details that go into entertaining the snootily elite. She used those hours to clean and straighten before getting to the hors d’oeuvres task, sure, but she also took it as an opportunity to get good and liquored up so as to not only be able to tolerate Chad’s friends, but also Chad himself when he was around his friends, something she had never bore witness to but imagined was not going to be very pleasant. Especially since she already knew in advance that one of his exes, Dede DeMoine–one of the most irksome names she had ever heard–would be in attendance. She had looked her up and found that Dede was the picture of blonde thinness. A perfect wisp bedecked in diamonds and pearls with no sense of irony about it, or for the fact that such a genre of jewelry was still generally reserved for older women. In short, Rhiannon needed to gird her fucking loins with the fortification of alcohol if she was to endure both this woman and this “fête.”
She didn’t care if Chad came home and found her inordinately garrulous in her state of inebriation (for garrulousness was always her “tell” when it came to having poured one too many). She needed her “medicine” even if it resulted in his endless rebuke. All she could focus on was getting through this party. Anyone watching from the outside looking in might have easily assessed her approach in doing so as a means to sabotage the relationship. Anyone from the inside of her head looking out would have understood that this was full-on survival mode.
After weathering Chad’s side-eyes and sneers at her behavior throughout the getting ready process, she plastered on a smile to answer the door for the first guest, Aaron Albrecht and his fiancée, Elenore Samson. They were followed by Reginald Ericson and Phoebe Weller. Then, finally, Dede, who opted to come without a date. That calculated fucking bitch. As though to deliberately make things feel off-kilter. Rhiannon was so visibly upset about it that she made a huge production of clearing away the place setting she laid out for the date Dede promised to bring. Dede chortled condescendingly at her and said, “Well gee, I didn’t know you were going to be so staunch about the table only including couples. I could’ve picked up the homeless man outside your building had I known.”
Chad laughed gregariously at her so-called joke, guiding her by her waist to the seat next to him. “Oh Dede, Rhiannon doesn’t mean anything by it. She’s just nervous is all. This is our first little soirée together. She only wants it to be perfect.” He said this as though for Rhiannon’s benefit, to remind her of what was at stake.
Dede tittered. “I’m sure it will be.” Patronizing cunt. Those were the words written all over Rhiannon’s face as she stared daggers at her. A stare everyone else would soon be mirroring back to her by the end of the dinner, at which point she had gone through two full bottles of Grey Goose, glasses poured out that Chad had never once seen her put more than a splash of a chaser in. He should have stopped her, perhaps, but that might have embarrassed her all the more–his monitoring, and being overt about it. So he let her dig her own grave. Or rather, two graves. His and hers (why have something so unoriginal as matching monogrammed towels, after all?). For it would take him likely decades to live down the events of the dinner party, concluding with Rhiannon breaking her old-fashioned glass, picking up one of the shards and lashing Dede across her left cheek with it. She had just gotten fillers, too, so that’s why the blood leaking out of her face seemed to have a strange, clearish film attached to it. Indeed, that was the last image Rhiannon could remember before she woke up the next morning with a hangover the likes of which she had never known. And she had been a bartender for most of her working life.
Appraising her surroundings, she realized she had been put to bed on the couch, not even offered the token of a blanket or her clothes being removed. It might have been the least Chad could have offered, but then, he wasn’t in a very giving mood after what she had done. That much was apparent upon ambling in a stupor around the apartment to find that he had vanished. Being that it was a Saturday at ten a.m., she knew his absence was a deliberate move to punish her. To make her panic. Well, she wasn’t going to. Instead, she made herself a pot of coffee and proceeded to get out the waffle maker. She was going to need a mountain of carbs to overcome this, and going into the public space alone was not an option. Without Chad to accompany her to some overpriced diner where a heart attack on a plate was always the special, she would have to be the one to nurse herself back to health.
Hours passed, and still he did not show. She had returned to the couch, binging on old movies about saucy romances predicated on vitriolic banter. In real life, men hated women like Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. They were only loved by the end of the movie when they had been tamed, quelled. Solely a faint glimmer of their original chutzpah before meeting the leading man left behind by Act Three. Rhiannon shuddered at this thought, could see that she had become one of them, these women she had idolized for being brazen and unapologetically witty. But not in this regard. Only in the aspect of themselves that had surrendered in some way to a hoity-toity Ivy Leaguer “slumming it” by choosing to be with her. She bolted upright at the very moment when Chad returned home, a grimace appearing on his face the second he saw her.
“Decided to wake up, did you?” he said caustically as he tossed his keys into the catch-all on the table by the entry.
“I’ve been up for hours, Chad. But I think only in this very instant did I become awake.”
He rolled his eyes. “Okay, whatever. Just know that I can never show my face anywhere around those people because of you. I have to pay for Dede’s cosmetic reparations to add to it all. As if I needed another fucking bill. I am the one paying for all of them around here, after all.” He looked her up and down in her gray pajama pants and navy David Bowie tank top. The eye of Bowie that wasn’t covered by a lightning bolt had a huge syrup stain on it from her waffle-eating session earlier. Chad, as though seeing her in an entirely new light, let out a jeering guffaw. “I can’t even understand why I keep you around. You’re useless. You do nothing for me.”
It was then that Rhiannon went over to the bar cart, poured a glass of expensive unopened whiskey, walked right up to him and threw the drink in his face in a way that Stanwyck would have sanctioned (after all she poured coffee on a man’s hand and broke a beer bottle on his head in Baby Face). “Actually, doll, you do nothing for me.” Dropping the glass on the floor and letting it shatter with as much carelessness as she did the previous evening, she put on the nearest pair of shoes by the door and walked out. Chad never heard from her again, though he still tried to find her in every cater waiter.