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Greta

I order Ryan another drink. He protests, saying that he has to work the next day and he shouldn’t get this drunk on a weeknight. I learn forward and slip my hand into his. I lightly caress his palm. I tell him I kind of want another one too. I tell him I have no other plans for the rest of the evening.
Ryan blushes, and it turns his entire face red for a few minutes. He signals the server and I excuse myself to use the restroom.

The bathroom is done in black marble and features the same low lighting that is used throughout the restaurant. The sound from the dining area is muffled in here in the almost somber silence. I feel like I’m inside a tomb, dark and secret, away from the light of hope and joy, where things come to rot and become no more. I check my phone and there are no messages from Greta. I am the only person in the bathroom and I stand in front of the mirror, where a light falls directly on my face, accentuating how tired I look and how nervous I feel even though I’ve done this before. In the secret folds of my purse I make sure that the two things that Greta gave me before I left her apartment are still there.

The smell hits me immediately as soon as I leave the bathroom. It is the stench of urine and sweat, of unwashed skin and clothes that have been worn for much too long. I immediately hold my hand up to my nose. There is an old man standing outside the bathroom. He looks to be homeless, his clothes tattered and covered in large brown stains. His hair is dull, and dirty, matted with filth and clumped into thick ropes on his head. His eyes are bloodshot and the stench of whiskey rolls out on his breath and swarms over my face. He is shaking slightly and has one hand out and holding the wall for balance. I step back and try to maneuver my way around him when he sees me.

“Chinese pussy,” he mutters, exposing crooked, yellowing teeth that have a brown film over them. “Chinese pussy, tight pussy,” he says.

Anxiety, hot and sudden, explodes in my chest. I excuse myself and try to move past him, when he reaches out and grabs my arm.

“Is it true your pussy goes sideways like your eyes?” he brings his face close to mine and the stench coming off him is so powerful that it is making me sick, the odors of booze and sweat combining to create something deeper and more profound, something that seems to hint at all that is wrong in the world and the incessant, insane demands of the human body. I pull my arm back, giving a short yelp as I do so, trying to find the breath to scream, but each time I gasp, the smell of him, the smell of this man, enters me and I gag and fall short of breath again. He holds on to me, his grip biting down on my arm, holding me in place. His eyes fix on me and in that terrible, yellow gaze I see something horribly alive and aware and excited.

There is no one else in the hallway. Less than ten feet around the corner is a dining room full of people eating dinner. The chiming of knives and forks on plates and a woman’s casual laughter sound impossibly far away as the man pulls me closer to him, dragging me down the hall and away from help. It always seems to come to this. To moments like these. No matter what you do, or how far you run, or how many homes they send you to, there is always a man in an alley, or a man in a car, or a man in a bathroom, who wants to shove himself into you. He starts with his breath, then he unzips his pants and it’s as inevitable as the sun or thirst. It always comes down to a cold floor and a hand pressed against your mouth and that frantic, terrible friction that changes you forever. The man grins, baring all his teeth like a dog, pulling me back into the women’s room.

“What the hell!”

And it’s Ryan, Ryan, the guy who works at Microsoft who wanted to show me a picture of his ex-girlfriend five minutes after meeting me. Sweet, beautiful Ryan, drunk and a little shaky, holding a receipt in one hand, staring at the homeless man and then at me with such intense confusion that in that moment he looks like a child. Shadows flicker across his face as he shoves at the man and pulls me towards him. The homeless man goes flying backwards, his arms scrambling to keep him balanced. He hits the swinging door of the rest room and falls into the restroom. I spin in a neat circle and find myself nestled against Ryan, my face pressed against his neck, the smell of his cologne a welcome replacement from the aroma of the homeless man.

“Call the police!” Ryan shouts “Someone call 911.”

In the dining room, there is some confusion and a few puzzled looks thrown at us. The wait staff is clustered around the entrance to the kitchen and most of them are still on their cell phones. I stop Ryan before he can shout again, my heart pounding in my chest so hard that I barely know what I’m saying.

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