tagRomanceThe Assistant (A Romance) Ch. 02

The Assistant (A Romance) Ch. 02


I was having loving thoughts of Matt all night. I hate having to think so much about him, but it feels so good. I’m still flabbergasted by the park incident though, I mean, his change was so abrupt. And I don’t think I like that much familiarity. I have no idea what to make of it, I don’t even know if I should make something of it. Perhaps I shouldn’t dwell on it; I’m probably making a big deal out of the whole thing anyway.

I spent the whole night pondering over whether or not I should tell Matt how I feel about him. I have decided not to tell him—for now. I want to know if our friendship is solid enough to handle this type of confession. I also want to see if his interest in me goes beyond a professional level. Besides, I think it’s too soon to tell him anyway. It’s reasonable to wait; my purpose is to charm him, not scare him away.

I am skipping this morning on my way to work. The rays of the morning sun are blinding me and I’m squinting into the chilly autumn breeze. Puffs of cold air come out of my mouth as I make my way to Park Avenue. I feel exhilarated. I can’t wait to see the man that makes me melt with lust—and trusts me enough to pee in front of me.

When I arrive at Matt’s, I notice a long and thin arm dangling from one of the chairs in the main room. I walk slowly toward the room and see a woman lying in one of the recliners. Her eyes are closed. She is very beautiful. She’s wearing a white silk nightie, which complements her milky white skin. Her red, wavy hair is slightly rumpled and disheveled. Her full lips are a lovely shade of pink. I suddenly have an urge to kiss those lips. What am I thinking? I’ve never been attracted to another woman, and I can’t say that I’m attracted to this particular woman, but she seems so enticing. She looks like a human mannequin. Who is she? And what is she doing here? No need to guess. I suddenly have a sensation of impending doom.

“May I help you?” the woman asks, noticing me for the first time. Her eyes are a pretty shade of blue.

“Where’s Matt?” I ask coldly.

“He’s taking a shower. Who are you?”

I should be the one asking that question. Bitch! “I work here. I’m Matt Steiner’s assistant.”

Her pale blue eyes light up. “So you’re Karla Lopez! I’ve heard so much about you!” Matt’s told her about me? Jealousy suddenly becomes smugness. Matt tells people about me! Me!

She gets up and shakes my hand. “I’m Penelope Perizchova, I’m a friend of Matt’s.”

“Nice to meet you,” I say uneasily. Friend? What kind of friend? A childhood friend, or a…friend?

“Good morning girls!” Matt says as he walks into the room. His hair is dripping wet. He is topless and has a towel wrapped around his waist. The towel is covered with clowns smiling broadly. One of the clowns is centered right over his crotch. He’s got a rather nice body. I admire his limbs from a distance. Yummy!

“Good morning,” Penelope and I say in unison.

She laughs.

I don’t.

He walks up to me and kisses me on the cheek, which does wonders to my smugness—he came up to me first! And then he goes over to kiss Penelope. On the lips. I feel like I’ve been slapped in the face. They kiss, but they’re not holding each other in a passionate way. She’s holding him firmly by his waist and her face is in his hands, but he is holding her reluctantly, almost forcefully. Her thrusting holds no answering heat from him—or at least that’s my perception. I’m standing right next to them. I feel intrusive, like an uninvited guest at a dinner party.

I should just leave.

I should just walk away and leave them to it.

Leave idiot leave!

As if sensing my discomfort, they stop kissing and glance over at me. Penelope smiles bashfully.

“Matt has told me lots about you!” she says, wagging her finger at me. “He tells me you’re this brilliant journalist. Is that true?”

“I don’t know,” I say, with a grimace I hope resembles a smile. “He might’ve embellished my personality a bit.”

“Don’t be so modest.” She makes a dismissive gesture with her hand. “I’m sure you’re great.”

I marvel at her friendliness. She tries to be charming—and is. She’s the kind of woman that I’d love to hate, or hate to love, or whatever. I want no part of her. She will not fool me with her apparent kindness. She’s my rival—trying to steal my man.

After a moment of awkward silence, she says, “I should get dressed. I have a photo shoot in two hours. It was nice meeting you, Karla.”

“Ditto,” I say dully.

Matt stares at her as she walks into his bedroom.

“So, who is she?” I ask, feigning casualness.

“A long time friend of mine. I ran into her at a nightclub the other night. In fact, it was the same night you and I had dinner together.”

I bite my bottom lip and ask the stupidest question in the world. “Before or after dinner?”


I feel nauseated.

He goes on: “She’s very nice—sole to the earth. And lots of fun.” I’ll bet she is. “You’ll like her.”

“Is she an actress?”

“No, a model.”

“A model,” I say hopelessly.

I feel all sorts of strange things around my body. I feel as though a poisonous substance is running through my veins and chilling my blood. I also feel as though a hot bubble is welling in my head and it’s about to burst against my skull. My eyes are bulging like a zombie. I feel my muscles tightening in despair. I lick my lips maniacally. I probably look like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

“Are you okay?” Matt asks worriedly.

“Actually…no…I’m not feeling very well today. Is it okay if I take the rest of the day off?”

“Yes, sure.” He rubs my neck gently with one hand. “Take as many days off as you want. I’ll call you if I need anything.”

I leave the apartment without uttering another word. He wants to get rid of me so he can be alone with her. And it hurts.

Well, well, well, what an unpleasant twist of fate! Yesterday, after Matt peed in front of me, I realized that I was in love with him, and today, he has a girlfriend. I feel like a fool. But I have no right to object. Oh, God, what shall I do? Should I just walk up to her, yank her by the arm, pull her hair and warn her to keep her mitts off my man? No, that would be degrading. Besides, I don’t think a person should be considered someone else’s property. Instead of wallowing in jealousy, I’m going to accept the fact that he’s got a new girlfriend. Do I have a choice? But I can’t fight the tears from rolling down my cheeks. Serves you right for falling in love, Karla. I am crying with tears of rage. Serves you fucking right!

Unbeknownst to him, Matt’s already broken my heart.

Sometimes I ask myself: what’s the point in loving someone?

I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for it, otherwise people wouldn’t make such a big deal out of it. But everyone knows what happens to people who fall in love. Someone breaks the other person’s heart—shred it to pieces, more like. Why would anyone want that? Why?

When I was a little girl, Ma told me many stories. She didn’t tell me stories about men and women falling in love and living happily ever after; it was actually quite the opposite.

This was one of the stories:

“One time, a year before you were born, I woke your father up in the middle of the night. I stroked his hair, kissed his neck, put my arms around him, whispered loving words to him, anything to arouse his attention. He did not respond. He had his eyes closed, but he was not sleeping. He didn’t want to reciprocate my affection. I shook him lightly, so as not to annoy him. He didn’t budge. ‘I know you’re awake,’ I whispered into his ear, ‘and I know you can hear me. Why won’t you hold me tightly in your arms? Why won’t you caress my body and make love to me the way you used to?’ He opened his eyes, looked blankly at me and said, ‘Because you repel me. Your body repels me, your face repels me, and even the smell of your skin repels me. If I had it my way, I wouldn’t be here with you. I’d be with another woman.’ I was speechless for a moment. ‘What other woman?’ I asked, horrified. ‘A woman I’m incredibly attracted to,’ he said. ‘I met her a few weeks ago. She’s amazing. I can’t stop thinking about her.’

‘What’s her name?’ I asked.

‘I’m not going to tell you,’ he answered. ‘What matters is that I want her.’

‘Is she prettier than me?’ I ventured.

‘Yes,’ he replied hesitantly.

‘Is she sexier?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘Do you think about her every night?’


‘Do you think about her when we kiss?’


‘Do you think about her when we make love?’


‘Have the two of you made love?’

He paused. ‘Yes.’

‘I can’t believe what I’m hearing.’ I covered my face with my hands and cried. He went back to sleep as if nothing had happened.

The very next day, he packed a suitcase and left. I didn’t try to stop him. Even though I loved him with all my heart, I still had some pride left. I’ll be fine without him, I told myself. My children and I don’t need him. We’ll be just fine without him.

Three months later, he came back. He let himself in without saying a word and sat on the couch as though he was the king of the household. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked. ‘I’m back,’ he said nonchalantly. It was pointless to argue with him. As far as he was concerned, he could come in and out of the house as he pleased. It happened again and again, and every time he did it, the more aloof I became. My heart grew hollow and indifferent. But deep down inside I was hoping he would change. But he never did. I went through hell with your father, Karla. Don’t let it happen to you, nena. Love equals happiness, but in most cases, it equals misery.”

That was one of her many stories and anecdotes about my father. I’ve been thinking about that particular story since I left Matt’s house.

It’s 3 a. m. and I can’t sleep. I try not to think of Matt and his new girlfriend, but it’s hard not to. I’m miserable. Ma’s right about one thing: love equals misery.

When I enter Matt’s apartment the next morning, I hear some mumbling coming from inside his bedroom. I tiptoe my way to the bedroom door and eavesdrop.

“I intend to get my time’s worth,” Penelope says.

“Not right now,” says Matt.

What are they talking about?

“I want us to spend as much time together as possible. I’m aware of our arrangement—”

Arrangement? What arrangement?

“—which is why I want to devour you as much as I can.”

Matt laughs. There’s a silence in the bedroom. The silence turns into giggling and moaning. I suddenly don’t want to eavesdrop anymore.

I quietly leave the apartment.

Later that night I get together with Ben, Bianca, and Ricardo at a café on Broadway. The café is decorated with posters of Les Miserables, Cats, Showboat, and Grease. A Broadway tune is playing on a jukebox next to which we sit. We each order a cup of coffee and a donut.

Oh-oh Lawd, I’m on my waaaaaaaaaaaaay. I’m on my waaaaaaaaaaaay…to the heavn’ly laaaaaaaaaaaaand, sings the jukebox.

“That’s a tune from Porgy and Bess,” says Ben, pointing to the jukebox.

“Do we have to sit next to it?” I nag.

“Sure we have to.”

“You okay, Karla?” asks Bianca.

“I’m fine.”

Ricardo is silent. He’s reading a Spanish version of Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits.

“Are you enjoying it?” I ask Ricardo.

“Yes. Have you read it?”

I nod and say, “In English.”

“Her writing is verry fantastic. She is verry good,” he says.

Ricardo has quite a sexy Cuban accent. His English is not heavily accented, but I’ve noticed that he has trouble pronouncing some words. He is very handsome though. He has dark hair and brown eyes. He’s tall and muscular. I can see his nipples through his white shirt. I can’t help but notice that Ben gazes at him with a deep, blissful expression.

“How’s it going, you big celebrity girl you?” Ben asks me. “Still in love with Matt Steiner?”

“I’m not in love with him,” I say defensively. “He’s very sweet and attentive, which is why I am…uh, fond of him.”

“Yeah. And my ass is as flexible as a cunt.”

Ah, Ben. He likes to piss people off. He’s very good at pushing people’s buttons. In addition to writing nail-biting articles in college, he did a number of deviations that won the hatred and indignation of everyone on campus—including the campus officials. Three years ago, on President’s Day, he unzipped his pants and urinated in front of the American flag at NYU while chanting, “I piss on America!” A few months later, he went to school wearing a pink crinoline dress and spent the entire day singing “Macho Man.” In film class, he brought a copy of the movie Meet the Fibbles—a twisted adult comedy featuring X-rated puppets with venereal diseases. On graduation day, he mooned the entire graduating class and campus officials and said, “Kiss my boo-boo.” The Dean shook his head and said, “We’ll miss you, Benjamin.” Evidently Ben is very outspoken and brutally honest. He speaks his mind without a second thought. One way or another, he always gets his political messages across. He is, by no stretch of doubt, the king of political incorrectness. One time he told me, “Do you think we live in a free country? If you think this is a free country, think again. Just ask my ancestors.” I marvel at his thirst for attention. Bianca and I are saints in comparison. The worst thing I’ve ever done in my life was cheat on a math test in seventh grade. But I like Ben because he is very loyal to his friends. And I admire him for having the courage to vent some of his anger—to no one in particular, but still. I think it’s his way of coping with the oppression he experiences every day. “I’m black and gay,” he once said. “A dangerous combination.”

“I am not in love with Matt,” I say abruptly. “I AM NOT!!”

“Okay,” Ben says gently. “You don’t have to yell, I was only kidding.” He changes the subject by talking about—surprise, surprise—him. “I’m a little upset, if you want to know the truth. I had a tete-a-tete this morning with my boss.”

“What about?” asks Bianca.

“He wants me to cover a story on the Internet. He wants me to cover a political aspect of it. Can you believe it?”

“So?” I ask.

“So? I write hard-hitting journalism.” He lightly bangs the table with his fist several times while saying this. “The Internet is a cliché subject—what writer hasn’t written an article about the Internet? But it’s okay. I have an idea for a good story. It’ll be called: ‘The Digital Divide.’ An exposé on the lack of technology and Internet access in inner-city high schools. I’ll cover schools in areas in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Perfect!”

“Can’t you for once write a story that isn’t controversial?” I ask him. “Write something light and fun for once.”

Ben looks at me with mock disapproval. “Karla, are you sure you want to be a journalist?”

Ricardo and Bianca laugh.

I look away in disgust.

“I’m only kidding. God, what is the matter with you?”

“She’s love sick,” says Bianca, chuckling.

“I am not.”

“Yes, you are,” she argues. “You’re madly in love with Matt. You’ve already admitted it. Now tell us what’s wrong.”

I sigh. “Matt has a girlfriend,” I mutter.

“What?” asks Ben, leaning forward to hear me.

“Matt has a girlfriend,” I say, with forceful loudness.

“Does he now,” says Ben.

I nod sadly.

“Are you not surprised? Men like him can’t be alone,” says Bianca.

“I know.”

Bianca sucks on the inside of her cheeks for a moment and then says, “Have you tried flirting with him?”

“What does flirting consist of?”

“If I have to explain the concept of flirting to you then we have a bigger problem in our hands.”

“No, I don’t think I’ve flirted with him.”

“Have you tried charm?”

“Charm? No, I guess not.”

“Have you tried flattery?”

“No.” What the hell is she up to?

“Licking your upper lip in a seductive manner?”

I laugh. “No.”

She shakes her head. “Then how do you expect him to like you if you haven’t made a move on him? You have to flatter him. A man cannot resist flattery.”

“What’s all this? What do you mean a man can’t resist flattery?”

“I marvel at your lack of knowledge in this subject, Karla. I mean, you are a woman, aren’t you?” Deadpan, she takes out a book from her tote bag and begins what I can only describe as a lecture. “There are many ways to entice a man, but flattery will ensure his affection.” She takes a sip of coffee and continues: “Flattery is the most effective technique when seducing a man. Men, like women, want to feel special—it boosts their confidence. Next time you see Matt, look deep into his eyes and whisper into his ear with as much urgency as you can muster and say: You are simply irresistible and I envy the woman who sleeps with you every night.” Bianca says this in a low, seductive tone.

Ben laughs.

“You must be joking,” I say, laughing too.

Bianca remains adamant and serious. “Trust me, sweetie, he won’t be able to resist.”

“Yu doesn has to do it like that,” says Ricardo, with his broken English. “Just be patient. He’ll comes around.”

“Oh, please Ricardo,” says Bianca. “Women have the right to be aggressive. Men have oppressed women for centuries, we cannot be passive anymore.”

“I am woman, hear me roar!” Ben teases.

“Flatter him,” she demands, “and you won’t regret it. Think of it this way: me want, me take.”

“That’s bullshit,” says Ben. “The ‘flattery’ technique? What utter crap! Is that a self-help book you have in your hand?”

“Yes,” Bianca says sheepishly. “But it’s a good book. Read it, Karla.” She hands me the book, which is called One Hundred Ways to Seduce a Man. “Keep it and learn from it.”

“Another book with more dating rules in it, I take it. Why can’t we be more like dogs? Why can’t we just sniff each other’s butts, hump each other and get it over with?”

“That’s so disgusting,” says Bianca. “And I don’t usually read self-help books.”

“Of course you don’t,” Ben retorts.

“All right, enough,” I shout.

Ricardo is reading his book quietly, no longer interested in our conversation. He’s a very wise man.

“Just promise me you’ll follow my advice,” says Bianca. “I won’t leave you alone until you say yes.”

“Fine.” I say this to shut her up. I don’t know if I’m going to follow her stupid advice or read her stupid book. Ben is right. The so-called flattery technique sounds a little too desperate and petty.

On my way home by way of the subway train, I’m having second thoughts about the whole flattery technique thing. Could it work? But even if it could, I don’t think I have the guts to do such a thing. I’ve never been outspoken and confident around a man. I’ve only had four boyfriends, for God’s sake! (Yes, I said four.) There was Mike (the countdown man), Josh (the mirror man), Darren (the dead lawyer), and Danny (the cheating bastard). I shouldn’t even call them ex-boyfriends—each relationship lasted about three months. In retrospect, I realize that, except for Darren, I had no romantic interest in these men. I only went out with them because I’m a young woman, and young women are expected to date. I am not going to follow Bianca’s advice. I will not flatter Matt. He is not with me. He’s with Penelope. And that’s that.

The train reaches my stop, and as I step out of it, I hear a voice that says: “Goodnight young lady!” I turn to see who it is, but the subway car closes its doors and disappears into the tunnel.

The next morning I receive a phone call from Dad. Dad seldom calls me, and so I answer the phone after having screened several messages from Ma and Matt—both of them wondering where I am. I don’t want to hear any more of my mother’s sex jokes at my expense and I’ve had enough of Matt and his gorgeous girlfriend. I’ve even switched off the cell phone to avoid him completely.

“Whose little girl are you?” Dad greets.

Oh God.

“Whose little girl are you?” he repeats.

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