Priya had imagined that on her business trip to San Francisco, she would take a photo by the Golden Gate Bridge and go to a strip club in Chinatown. One of her housemates back in college swore by the Chinatown strip club and the dim sum next door. Priya thought that seeing the almost naked women, with all those men watching, might bite back the depression that sucked her sex drive away. Priya wanted to be wanted.
But instead of going to the strip club, Priya spent her afternoon off at the Palo Alto IKEA, contemplating what piece of flimsy furniture might better hold her files. Any purchase over $50 would be shipped back to her condo in Boston for free. She found a blonde side-by-side cabinet that would be perfect for Rico and her. Priya handled everything at their house—she paid the bills, coordinated luncheons with Rico’s parents, and even set his outfits out while he showered in the mornings. On the subway ride home every night, she texted him to see where to order take out from.
The alarm sounded on her phone. It was 8:00 p.m. back home, time for Rico to take his vitamins. She sent a quick text, reminding him, added a heart, and bought the IKEA files before heading back to the convention.
Priya’s contract with Takeda Pharma brought her to the convention in San Francisco. Well they’d called it San Francisco, but really it was the Crowne Plaza in San Mateo.
The dinners at these things were the worst. So many white men with knuckle hair, bad breath, and drooping earlobes. Priya wondered if these were prerequisites for management. Chuck was the youngest at her table. As if the inspirational speakers were not painful enough, they assigned seats, forcing Priya to endure the same tiresome conversation for three consecutive nights. At least Chuck flirted with her shamelessly. His uninhibited interest in Priya made his oafishness cute.
Priya and Chuck were the only two that were unbanded. But what Chuck did not know, what almost no one knew, was that Priya was married.
The silk dress that Priya wore to the convention dinner showed the curve of her shoulder blades and exposed her back. When Chuck leaned in she thought he might see the top of her nipple. What was there to see anyway? Priya was no more than an ironing board—thin and flat-chested. The dress did its part in concealing the dark spot over her heart—a brand left from working as an executive in the advertising industry for the last three years. It was long enough to get her salary into the six-figure range—earning enough money to put her sister through grad school and pay for her Grandmother’s knee surgery back in Mumbai.
Chuck grew bold as the talk on leadership continued. He’d made a special point of standing up and pulling out the chair next to him for Priya to sit in when she arrived at dinner. Priya wasn’t used to this type of attention. In high school, her beak of a nose and complete lack of breasts made her invisible to boys. She was one of those goodie-two shoes, never in trouble, always at the top of her class.
Something changed when she got to college. Men noticed her.
The speaker at the convention was some CEO who looked like an overdrawn Bill Clinton, wearing a bow tie. His claim was that what made a great leader was the first follower. “A leader without a follower was no more than a crazy person,” the speaker said, showing a slide of a man dancing by himself without a shirt.
Priya knew that advertising wasn’t about leadership; it was about manipulation. The truth didn’t matter if people followed along.
Chuck picked at his gums with a toothpick then put his arm around the back of Priya’s chair. His fingertips touched her bare skin.
He bought her wine from the bar. On the third glass, he put his hand on her thigh and squeezed, pushing up just enough so that she knew where he was going. Priya could have swatted him away. Instead, she pressed her legs together, but that only made the throbbing in her clit stronger. It was a sensation she thought was lost. She thought of her husband, Rico: usually thinking of Rico would be enough to kill the moment.
She’d met Rico in college. He was the tawny type that stuttered when they first spoke. They didn’t start dating until a year after she graduated college. They had the same circle of friends, or rather Rico was on the inside of the circle that Priya shuffled around. He brought her to fancy dinners, packed wine and cheese picnics, and took her to the coast. When they were together, Priya’s afternoons and nights were all accounted for— gallery openings, parties, boating, and vacations.
The first time she had sex with Rico was thrilling with newness, despite his awkwardness. Rico lost the condom inside of her. He hadn’t known he had to hold onto it when he pulled out.
Priya took the morning after pill and then got shot up with Depo-Provera. Still, she didn’t let Rico cum inside of her. At twenty-four, there was no way she was going to get pregnant.
When Priya moved in with Rico, the nightmares from back home still gripped her sleep. Priya got a cat that bit his back bald and she started antidepressants. The yellow pills took her dreams away.
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