Elle finished hooking together the small metal prongs of the bustier. She adjusted the straps and her boobs threatened to spill out of the stiff fabric. The elastic tops of her stockings bit into her thighs. Yeah-no mistaking it. Elle felt like a whore.
The changing room was barely larger than a closet and decorated like a Valentine’s Day extravaganza-red carpet, pink wallpaper with hearts. In the dim light, Elle scrutinized her reflection. She didn’t look bad, really. She had a nice body. She just looked foreign to herself.
She wore a black microscopic patch of underwear, bedecked with rhinestones where no rhinestones should go. The top squeezed her waist and stomach and made her boobs feel like they were under her chin. The stockings she wore weren’t fishnet-which would forever remind Elle of drunk girls dressed up as slutty nurses at college Halloween parties-but black stockings topped with red bows. Nothing like the nylons she’d worn under prom dresses because her mom had said that girls with bare legs were easy.
“Miss, do you need any help?” the saleslady asked. She waved over the top of the dressing room door. She had rings on every finger and reminded Elle of her favorite aunt.
“Oh God, no,” Elle said. Even though she was in the room alone, she covered her crotch with one hand. She grabbed the door handle with her free hand just in case the saleslady barged in anyway.
“Ok. Just shout if you need anything,” the saleslady said, cheerily.
“Right,” Elle said to her reflection.
The Penthouse version of Elle stared back from the mirror. She drew in a deep breath. Fine. She looked like a whore. But a vaguely classy one. A nice call girl that businessmen would pay top dollar for, and then take to expensive restaurants where they would eat foie gras before screwing on Egyptian cotton sheets.
Elle snapped the elastic top of one of her stockings. She knew Spencer would love her outfit. Not that he’d asked her, directly, to change. They’d been seeing each other for barely over a month, after all. But two weeks into the relationship, after the first time they’d had sex, Spencer had rolled off of her and then held her tightly across the waist. He’d made a small contented groan and it mingled with the sound of traffic that wafted through Elle’s open bedroom window.
“You’re not like other girls I’ve been with,” he’d said.
She’d been sure it was a compliment, but she didn’t know how to reply. Thanks? Spencer was a personal trainer. He could bench press her with one arm and practically shred paper across his abs. She knew the type of girls he was used to-the ones that threw themselves at him at the gym. Beautiful girls with body fat percentages in the single digits, with smoky eyes, and water balloon tits.
There were other things that Spencer had said when they were in bed, too. Like, two days ago he’d asked, could you bite my nipple? Elle was embarrassed, and thankful for the dark of the room. She wouldn’t bite him, but she thought scratching up his back was a compromise. Harder, he’d asked. No-demanded. She’d scratched him so hard that she thought she drew blood. She wanted to turn him on, and it didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time. Later, she’d seen the red ridges on his back and then rushed to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face. It had taken years for Elle to get over her guilt over sex. She’d prayed the rosary for an hour after she gave her first hand job at sixteen. Elle didn’t think of herself as a prude, really. But, good Catholic girls just didn’t do things like bite and scratch their nice boyfriends.
Still, Spencer had asked her out after she’d taken one of his kickboxing classes over a month ago. He’d approached Elle after class, while she was all sweaty and possibly close to fainting.
“Try to pivot more when you punch across,” Spencer had said. He stood in front of her and dropped into a boxing stance. He punched across his body, pivoting at the hips, and flashing Elle his Thor triceps. “See?”
“I don’t think I’m that limber,” Elle had said, feeling gross in her sweaty white t-shirt and bike shorts.
“Oh, come on!” Spencer had said. His smile was white and one of his front teeth was slightly crooked, which she found endearing. “Try it again.” He’d walked behind Elle and placed his hands on her hips. He didn’t seem to care about her sweat-damp clothes.
“Now, punch across,” he’d said. Elle did, and Spencer pivoted her body with his warm, wide hands. “See, perfect!”
His pointers had led to a conversation over banana protein shakes at the gym juice bar. He paid. Then, he’d asked her out for dinner the next day.
Spencer wasn’t just a body, though. He was a sweet guy. Sweeter than a guy who looked like an underwear model had any right to be, probably. He sent flowers to Elle’s office when she’d complained that the other legal secretaries she supervised were being massive bitches. He cooked her dinner in her apartment once, after she’d said that she could barely fry an egg.
If anything, he was the more emotional one. Two weeks into the relationship Spencer wanted her to meet his brother. “I’ve told him all about you,” he’d said. At the time, Elle felt uncomfortable. She had a strict six month rule before meeting family members. But then Spencer had said, that night in the darkness of the movie theater during the previews, “I’ve never felt like this for someone so quickly.”
So, she’d agreed because she felt lucky and she liked him a lot. She was dating a great guy who was so open about his feelings, who seemed really into her. Couldn’t she be less guarded, more affectionate, too? Spencer couldn’t stop smiling the whole evening that the three of them went out together, and spent almost all of dinner with his arm around her shoulders.
Spencer made her feel special. Not that she had self-esteem problems. But she felt abandoned, more than she liked to admit, ever since David had left six months ago. She and David had been together for three years. Not just dating, but merged lives. Living together. Wedding invitations coming in the mail addressed to both of them. Sunday mornings dozing on the couch. Until David decided that he felt trapped. Suffocated was his word. Which hurt in new ways that Elle never imagined. Elle remembered sitting on the bathroom floor, fighting with the man who she thought she would have kids with, over which towels she was taking when she moved out.
Now she had Spencer. She liked the confidence that Spencer sparked in her. He made her feel wanted. But she felt a twinge-which she would never admit to anyone, ever. She was trying to be more sexual and aggressive to keep Spencer’s attention so he’d stay.
In the dressing room, Elle removed the lingerie. She dressed in her familiar slacks and conservative work blouse, and left the changing room. The saleslady beamed when Elle slid the lingerie over the counter.
“How did everything work out?” the saleslady asked.
“Good,” Elle mumbled. She tried not to look at the mirror behind the counter, where she knew her face burned red. “Could you remove the tags, please?” Her voice sounded weak, like crinkled paper.
The saleslady winked while she cut the tags from Elle’s new garments.
“Have fu-unn!” she sang, and slid the glossy pink bag over to Elle.
Elle hid the bag with her long coat, hurried out of the mall, and into the streets outside.
She wasn’t used to seeing the city on a Friday afternoon. She’d left work early for her very specific shopping trip, so she could drop in on Spencer at his gym, while he was between clients. Her excitement surprised her. She was always the reliable one at work. Staying late when the attorneys would toss last-minute projects at her-endless faxes, filing, paperwork-with the express direction that they get done yesterday. The other secretaries complained about their schedules and tasks, asked to leave early, and Elle always obliged. They bulldozed her, and she was supposed to be their boss. Not today, though. She felt like a kid cutting school. I’m not feeling well. Going to the doctors, she’d said. She could be more spontaneous and fun. She could skip out on work once in a while, buy lingerie, keep her boyfriend happy.
Spencer’s gym was a short walk from the mall. A block away from her final destination, Elle ducked into a coffee shop and downed a shot of espresso for courage. Then, she slipped into the small bathroom and changed into her new lingerie. Her brown hair-which would never be described using those shampoo commercial tags like shimmering or voluminous-was usually swept back off her face. She let her hair sway freely to her shoulders. In her new seductress getup in the bathroom, she actually felt more confident than she’d been in the changing room. This would be fun, right? She shoved her discarded work clothes into the glossy pink bag. She slid into her spring trench coat, which fell inches past her knees. She knotted the coat at her waist. Covered, she looked like a nice lawyer who wore black nylons to work, instead of a girl about to give her boyfriend the fuck of his life.
Spencer’s gym was a small, privately owned business on the first floor of an office building. His car was parked in front, so she knew he was there. No turning back now. Elle grabbed the door handle and felt excited-aroused-in a guilty sort of way. She stepped inside.
The space was wide room with a small reception area, cardio machines, weights, and a group fitness room. Spencer’s office was one of three in a row behind the front desk. Early in afternoon, the gym was still dead. Only a handful of people trudged on the treadmills a trainer coached a woman on one of those inflatable yoga balls that Elle always managed to roll off of.
She knew Spencer wouldn’t have a client scheduled now. He was on this rigid eating schedule, small meals every three hours, and it was his lunchtime. Sometimes they’d met for lunch, but he’d eat something like a can of tuna and a handful of almonds while she felt silently guilty for whatever she ate. So, Spencer would be alone in his office. She imagined his face when she opened her trench coat-a flick of his eyes heavenward as if to say, Thank God. Should Elle say something? Try to be sultry? I’m not like the other girls you’ve been with-I’m better. No, she could just let her body do the talking.
Elle walked past the reception area to the row of offices. She grabbed the doorknob of Spencer’s office door and twisted. Locked? Weird. She was about to knock but then she heard something. A woman’s voice? He must be in a meeting with a client. Then-laughter. The unmistakable sound of a high, feminine laugh mingling with Spencer’s baritone chuckle. Elle could wait in the reception area until after Spencer’s meeting. But then, she was mortified that a stiff breeze from the front door would expose her bare ass to the world.
Then, what was that? Not laughter, but something lower. Elle froze. A sigh. A moan? Then, shuffling noises. Like a chair scraping across the floor. Silence again. Elle held her breath. More noises. Grunting sounds, unmistakable now. Low, animal noises-which had to be from Spencer, then higher, breathy pants from whoever his lady friend was.
Bewildered, Elle stepped back from the door. What the fuck? Granted she’d only been seeing Spencer a month. But, he’d said he liked her a lot. That should at least offer some sort of guarantee that he wasn’t boning someone else on his lunch break. Something inside of Elle changed. She felt betrayed, but mostly stupid. She had been walking around the city, nearly naked, to surprise Spencer. And he couldn’t even keep his dick in his pants?
She spun and left the row of offices. The trainer across the room didn’t pay any attention to Elle as she clutched her trench coat around her and fled. Outside, she drove every footfall into the pavement like she was striking Spencer’s face.
Elle flagged down a taxi. She thought about going back to work, but no-that would be torture. Elle hadn’t even told Cecilia, her best friend at work, about her plan to seduce Spencer. She’d been too embarrassed. Now Elle just wanted to be alone. She sat in the back of a taxi and picked at her fingertips until she drew blood. The bright pain felt like some sort of weird karmic comeuppance. Revenge of the feminists, hexing Elle for being so readily able to change herself for a guy she didn’t even know that well. She couldn’t get her apartment door open fast enough.
Inside her home, Elle felt a little safer. She only cried for a minute but stopped because she wasn’t sure if she’d settled on sadness or anger yet. She tugged the knot at her waist free and pulled off the trench coat. She threw her purse and the lingerie bag to the couch. She felt like an idiot, too, for having the saleslady remove the price tags on the lingerie. Wonderful. Now she had an asshole boyfriend and was out two hundred bucks.
Elle plodded to her bedroom, where she removed the bustier and thong. She rolled down the black stockings and saw that the elastics had cut deep, textured bands into her thighs. They throbbed with her heartbeat. She fell back onto her bed, naked, and looked at her nightstand clock. Just past one in the afternoon. Probably too early to get started on a nice buzz, alone in her apartment.
Hating Spencer would be so easy if he was just a jerk. But since he could get any girl in bed, his feelings for her had to’ve been real, right? Or, maybe he was sleaze the whole time, and just had a good way of hiding it? That thought hurt. Elle sighed and wanted to sink deeper into her mattress.
Elle dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt and left her bedroom. She could give Cecilia a call, hoping that her friend would snap her out of any lingering positive feelings towards Spencer. Elle entered the living room and grabbed her purse from the couch. She checked her cell phone. One new message.
“Hey babe, it’s me,” Spencer’s message began. Elle made a mental note to never, ever trust anyone who called her “babe” again. “What are you doing later? Want to get dinner? Give me a call. Hope you’re having a good day!”
Elle flinched. He sounded so sincere. She could hear the smile in his voice. Was he really the type of person who could screw someone else and pretend like it never happened? Or, maybe there was some other explanation for what she’d heard. A private boxing lesson in his office? Or he’d been watching porn or something? Confused, she called Cecilia and left a voicemail.
“I need to go out tonight, Cec,” Elle said. “Can you come by after work? I’ve had a shitty day. I’ll explain when you get here. Just-see you later.”
Elle hung up and tossed the phone to the couch. She felt a pulse of anger. What the fuck was she thinking? There was no other explanation for what she’d heard. Spencer was a cheating bastard. She wasn’t going to wallow. She grew up watching ass-kicking warrior princesses and vampire slayers. She’d confront Spencer and learn the truth. Then tell him, get out of my life, you asshole.
Cleaning always calmed Elle’s brain. Even when she’d lived with David, a bad day at the office would send her bundling his socks and ironing his shirts, only because her stuff was always neat. Elle’s new apartment had been fully furnished when she’d moved in, five months ago. Decent enough furniture in the living room and neutral wallpaper that she’d decorated with decals of twirling ivy. She felt like if she didn’t have something to do with her limbs, she’d go nuts. There was nothing in the living room to clean except for an old stack of magazines that she threw out. She almost toppled over a potted plant just so she could sweep up the dirt.
Elle thought of Spencer’s voicemail again, seething. The living room floor looked terrible now. Why hadn’t she noticed that before? She made quick work of sweeping around the furniture. But that wasn’t enough. She should mop. She wanted to scrub so hard, like the floor was Spencer’s flesh, and she could wipe away filth and layers of his skin.
She decided that she should move all of the furniture into one corner for the most effective mopping. She dragged the couch, chair, and coffee table into the corner opposite her bedroom. There was a tall bookcase, which she’d never moved, against the wall shared with the kitchen. She could mop around the bookcase-but, no. No more hidden dirt anymore-everything into the open. Elle hauled the bookcase along the floorboards with the strength of a mom heaving a car off of her trapped baby.
The wallpaper that was behind the bookshelf was a shade lighter than the rest of the room. The place had been professionally cleaned before she’d moved in, so she never thought to scrub down the walls. Now, that stark rectangle in the wallpaper was evidence of hidden filth. Annoyed, she took a rag from the kitchen and wiped at the wall. The wallpaper was a light yellow with faintly embossed stripes. When she put pressure on the newly-revealed wallpaper, it gave way a little, as if there was no wall behind it.
Elle made a small valley in the wallpaper with a fingernail. She hesitated, but then pierced her nail through. Shit, now she’d be charged for property damage when she moved out. She poked her finger in a little deeper. Then-wait-something cool. Wood? Some type of panel? An angry grunt escaped her lips. First Spencer lying to her, and now her asshole landlord hiding something behind a bookcase? She wanted to shred the wallpaper away because Spencer wasn’t there to spit in his face and because the landlord was an asshole who still hadn’t fixed her kitchen light, but took every opportunity to stare at her boobs. She tore away a palm-sized hole. Then more. Rip. Rip. Shredding felt so good. She pulled away a huge rectangular section and then stepped back. What the hell?
The door that Elle had just uncovered didn’t look like anything special. The only thing that looked off was the doorknob. The knob was a piece of metal, a few inches long, connected to a flat ring about the size of Elle’s fist. Looking almost like an old-fashioned doorknocker, it was inset into the door, which explained why the bookshelf was able to rest flush with the wall. Well, she’d already failed to look behind one door today. Fuck if she’d let another go unopened. She grabbed the ring and then turned it to the right as she would any normal knob. She felt the mechanism inside the door move. She pulled so hard that she thought she’d tear the door off its hinges.
Inside was a small space with gray walls and a single shelf at eye level. Weird place to put a pantry, or a broom closet. Whatever it was. She looked down at the wide strip of wallpaper in her hand and had to laugh. Really, what had she been expecting, a rotting corpse? When had she become such a suspicious bitch? But no-if Spencer really was screwing some client in his office-and he had to’ve been-then Elle’s paranoia wasn’t crazy. Or if he hadn’t been, fuck that. The fact that she did suspect him told her all she needed to know. She couldn’t trust him.
Elle was exhausted. The rest of the wallpaper would have to go, too, because she couldn’t have a big gaping hole. Redecorating was the last thing she needed to think about, though. Elle swept up the wallpaper scraps and threw them all away. She put the broom in her new closet and shut the door. Next, she mopped the floors until her arms ached. Spencer always winked at her when he teased. God-who winks anymore?-but at the time, Elle always thought that it was sweet. Yes, think about the bad things. What else? He had a tribal band tattoo circling his arm. Who gets those anymore, besides bad reality TV stars? He’d left a few things at her place-a frayed hooded sweatshirt, a few pairs of underwear, and a backpack with a towel and toothbrush. She should throw these things out. Her sweaty t-shirt stuck to the small of her back and under her breasts.
The mopping done, Elle moved the furniture back, except for the bookshelf. She wasn’t sure what to do with it yet. There in another corner-surprise!-was a cluster of dirt and hair. Spencer had really nice hair-dark brown and kind of shaggy, and it hung, sweaty in his face when they had sex. No. Elle shouldn’t think about any occasion where Spencer hadn’t been a dick. She went to her new closet for the broom to sweep the remains of him from her life. The ring handle gave way easily to the twist of her hand and she opened the door.
Half a second later, Elle slammed the door closed and then heaved the full weight of her body against it. She drew in a deep breath and then squeezed her eyes shut.
The room had seemed different. No, that didn’t make sense. When she’d been cleaning before, she must’ve been so distracted that she hadn’t noticed closet’s size. But still-seconds ago, when she’d peeked inside-she’d seen things. A rocking chair. A ceiling fan. The broom that she’d placed there before was gone. But that wasn’t possible. She was going psycho. To prove to herself that she wasn’t nuts, she reached for the doorknob.
She turned and opened the door again. And then she screamed.
The room-or whatever it had been-was gone. In its place was a huge dining room with oak-paneled walls, something from the cover of an interior design magazine with a horse-faced woman designer on the cover. High-backed chairs ringed a long table, covered with a red cloth and ornate place settings. The room looked bigger than her whole apartment. Her hand fell from the door and she reached forward, past the threshold. She felt terrified for an instant, like the air in the room would do something strange-burn her, transform her skin. But, Elle pushed away her fear and stepped inside.
The new room smelled different than her apartment. She smelled varnish, and in the background, heady, expensive liquors. Elle circled and let her hands brush against the tablecloth, stunned. It felt soft and slick like rose petals. In front of each chair rested a gold-ringed plate, a bowl, and gleaming silverware. Folded white napkins drooped like lilies from wine glasses. She was scared, but at the same time, fascinated. For the first time in what felt like days, she didn’t think of Spencer.
Elle left the room and then closed and reopened the door. The dining room was gone. In its place was a brick wall. Close, open. A kid’s bedroom with posters of tween pop stars on the walls. The rustled, bright blue bedspread had a deep impression, almost as if a body had just been laying there.
She shuffled through what seemed like a hundred rooms. Her hand ached from all the twisting, but she felt unable to stop, her limbs fueled by her wonderment. The room didn’t change until the door was closed all the way-which she realized when she shut the door against a dark basement, but didn’t let the latch catch the door frame. She thought of her broom that had disappeared, and then placed other objects in these rooms. An old pair of sneakers. An apple. A candle with the wick buried in the wax. Each time the door reopened to a new room, the things were gone. More rooms. And she never saw the same room twice. Kitchens with plates stacked high in the sink. Sex dungeons where chains and odd slings hung from the ceilings. A baby’s nursery. All devoid of people. But some of the rooms felt as though the inhabitant had just stepped out.
Her favorite room was a huge bedroom, one wall a sliding glass door that led onto a terra cotta tiled balcony. The room was minimally decorated. A bed, a small night stand, a chair, and a bookshelf filled with volumes in a language she didn’t recognize. But the view. She opened the sliding door and stepped the balcony. There was the ocean. Which one-impossible to tell. A pink sand beach devoid of sunbathers. The hush of cresting waves as the tide pulled in. The air even smelled salty and humid. An ocean view in her living room. She closed the door again.
Elle stepped back and looked at the clock over the stove. Christ, it was almost six. She’d been shuffling through rooms for over four hours. It felt like minutes had passed since that first change. Her wrist pulsed from overuse. Her eyes felt dry, like small orbs of driftwood. If Cecilia headed for Elle’s place right from work, she’d be there soon. As if on cue, the intercom by the front door buzzed. Cecilia’s voice sang out, “hey it’s me!” from the intercom. Shit.
Elle needed a minute to think. She ran to the intercom and buzzed Cecilia into the front door of the building, only a short walk away from Elle’s apartment. “Come on in,” she said. “My door is unlocked!”
Fuck-what to do? She ran to the bathroom. A quick glance in the mirror revealed that she looked a mess. She bent and splashed some cold water onto her face. Cecilia would be the one to talk to. She remembered Cecilia comforting her as she cried, wrapping knick knacks in bubble wrap as she moved out of David’s place. Cecilia was the one who’d pulled Elle out of her quicksand of depression in the following weeks. And last year Elle had been Cecilia’s emotional crutch after her sister had died.
They could talk about anything, but what would Elle even begin to say? No, it would it be better show Cecilia. But what if Elle showed her the door and behind it was some broom closet that refused to change into another room? Cecilia would think that Elle had gone batshit crazy in the last four hours. Maybe that was true.
Elle dipped over the sink again and took in several mouthfuls of cool water. When she straightened back up, she found Cecilia waiting behind her. Elle immediately jumped.
“Oh, Jesus, you scared me,” Elle said to Cecilia’s reflection. Elle looked at herself. The water had caused her mascara to run down her face. She looked like hell, like she’d been crying.
“Are you ok?” Cecilia asked. Her pretty features were furrowed in concern. Her pink blouse, a contrast to her coffee-colored skin, reminded Elle of salmon sushi. “You look a littleâ€¦stressed.”
“Weird day,” Elle said. She patted her face with a hand towel. Had Cecilia noticed the new door? She’d been to Elle’s house plenty of times before. Elle had been to Cecilia’s, too, but she couldn’t say she knew where all of her friend’s closets were.
“Did something happen at the doctor’s this afternoon?” Cecilia asked. New, mysterious doors weren’t on her mind, then. Good. Elle turned to face her.
“No, I faked sick to leave work early. It’s Spencer,” Elle said, and gripped the sink behind her. She felt sadness again, but then, no-anger. That felt better. “I think-no, I know I caught him screwing some other woman at his office.” She flicked her eyes to the living room and the new door. One thing at a time.
“That fucker,” Cecilia said.
Elle laughed, immediately relieved that Cecilia didn’t coo some sympathetic but useless line like, Dump that zero and find yourself a hero!
Cecilia grabbed Elle’s shoulders and scrunched her mouth up to the side. “How are you holding up?”
Elle shrugged. “I’m pissed. I feel like an idiot. I’d love to just get out of the house.” She thought of the door again, panicked. What was behind it now? A linen closet? An office that she could step into and see her boyfriend’s bucking ass as he plowed another woman?
“Yeah, that sounds good,” Cecilia said. “Let’s go have a few drinks. Take your mind off that asshole.” Elle saw Cecilia take in her slightly crazed, homeless lady appearance. “But, let’s get you cleaned up, first. No offense.”
In the bedroom, Elle caught Cecilia’s eyes as her friend noticed the discarded lingerie on the bed.
“Um, explain?” Cecilia asked.
Elle buried her face in her hands. “Ugh, I’m so embarrassed. I bought that lingerie to surprise Spencer at his office.”
“Ouch,” Cecilia said.
“Yeah,” Elle agreed.
“Well,” Cecilia said, “forget about him for now.”
Cecilia raided Elle’s closet, pieced together an outfit, and laid the clothes on the bed. She said, “Close your eyes, sweetheart,” before sweeping smoky powder across Elle’s eyes. She painted Elle’s lips a molten red, with a lipstick that Elle had bought but had never worn.
Elle thought again of Spencer’s words, you’re not like other girls I’ve been with. Maybe Spencer had meant it as some sort of insult? As in, I’m not used to trying this hard for a girl. Elle knew she should get out of the house, to distract herself from just those kind of thoughts, but her excitement dwindled. She felt tossed away again.
“Do you think I drive men away?” Elle asked. “Am I boring?”
Cecilia turned to Elle and gave her a what the fuck are you talking about? face. “You are perfect,” Cecilia said.
Elle laughed so she wouldn’t cry because she felt like an idiot again-for the millionth time that day. Cecilia was so understanding-always. She walked into the living room to give Elle some privacy while she changed. Elle felt calmed. Things were in better perspective, now. As much as the situation with Spencer hurt, she had experienced slightly stranger things that day. Shit-Cecilia was in the living room, alone. With the door.
Elle hurried. She shed her sweaty clothes. Then-why not-she put on the new thong. It couldn’t have taken her more than a minute to get into the skirt and the slinky blue top that Cecilia had picked out. But Cecilia had to’ve noticed the new door by now. What had Elle been thinking? That she could just pick some room that she liked, leave the door open, and enjoy her upgraded living space without telling anyone? She stepped out of her bedroom.
Cecilia was in front of the new door. Elle felt instant panic.
“This might make me sound like an airhead, but has this door always been here? Am I that oblivious?” Cecilia asked. She turned to Elle. “Hey, you look great!”
The part of Elle that was terrified of the unknown wanted to move the bookcase back over the door and reseal the oddness of the shifting rooms. But, no-she just couldn’t go out and drink margaritas like nothing bizarre or possibly psychotic had happened. And Cecilia-sweet, fun, Cecilia-might know what to do, right? Or, at least it would help to have someone else to talk to, so that Elle could be sure that she hadn’t experienced some freak disassociation from reality.
“Cec, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” Elle began. No-there were no words that wouldn’t sound insane. Elle would just show her. “Could you open that-”
The intercom by the door buzzed. Fuck. Elle stiffened.
“You want me to get that?” Cecilia asked.
“No, wait,” Elle said. “Let’s just ignore it.”
“Babe, it’s Spencer,” Spencer’s voice, a honey-coated tune from a low brass instrument, called from the intercom. This wasn’t the time.
“Are you sure?” Cecilia tilted her head to the side, concerned.
Another moment of heavy silence passed. Elle gathered strength again. “I’m sure,” she said. “Look, would you-”
The intercom buzzed once more. “Are you there?” Spencer called again. “I called your office this afternoon. They said you left early to go to the doctor’s. How are you feeling? I brought some soup.”
He sounded concerned, which disgusted Elle. Her anger swelled beyond the dimensions of her rib cage.
“You should probably talk to him,” Cecilia said, getting her purse from the coffee table. “I’ll grab a cup of coffee down the street and hang out for a little while. If you’re still up for going out afterwards, give me a call.” She left with a small wave.
No, fuck. Elle didn’t need Spencer now. Though, maybe Cecilia had helped her out. Made the decision that Elle should just talk to Spencer and then get on to the more pressing matter in her life. Fine-she’d confront him now. Dare him to deny the other woman. Elle went to the intercom and buzzed him up.
Immediately, she went to the living room and the strange door. Laundry room. A ballet studio where Elle looked in the mirror, noticing for the first time how she looked in the outfit that Cecilia had picked out. Just like in the changing room that afternoon, she felt different. But not exposed-powerful. Like an action movie hero-one of those sexy assassins or sexy secret agents who strapped guns to their thighs and blew up things. She closed the door against her reflection and opened it again. A porch with screen doors. No, she wasn’t crazy. She closed the door and backed away. She heard a knock at the front door, just a formality, because by the time she made it to the kitchen, Spencer had already walked in. He smiled broadly at her and lifted a paper bag.
“Chicken soup, to the rescue,” he said.
Elle felt her lips sticking to together, slick with the molten red lipstick. She took the bag from him with two fingers and dropped it on the kitchen counter. She did not smile.
Spencer’s grin faltered. “Are you ok?” Then, he eyed her, hungry. “You don’t look sick.”
Elle’s bravado faltered. Her confidence felt painted on. But, then her anger flared and felt real. “Spencer, I need you to be honest with me.”
He nodded slowly and took a step closer to her, but then crossed his arms over his chest.
“I stopped by your gym today at lunch,” Elle began, “and I thought-no, I know I heard something.” She felt stupid now, exposed. Her voice quavered, sounded weaker than she’d hoped. “Were you having sex with someone in your office?”
Spencer avoided her eyes. He sighed and his gaze dropped to the floor.
“Ellie, I’m so sorryâ€¦,” Spencer began.
“Don’t.” Elle put a hand up to stop him. Her skin felt clammy in disgust.
“She’s just a client. I didn’t plan on it.” Spencer stepped forward to comfort her, but then stopped when Elle backed away. His face fell and the corners of his lips drooped down. Elle thought she could see a quiver of his chin. “It didn’t mean anything-not like when I’m with you. It’s justâ€¦you know how sexual I am. It was just physical. Like-scratching an itch. ”
“Oh God, shut up,” Elle snapped. That felt good. A chain reaction of anger ignited in her chest. “You scratch an itch, you don’t fuck someone behind your girlfriend’s back.”
“I’m sorry,” Spencer said quietly. He let his arms fall to his sides. “What else can I say?”
“Just get out,” Elle said, her eyes radiating fire.
Spencer reached for her, but then shook his head. He tossed his hands in the air, resigned, and turned his eyes to the ceiling. When they settled back on Elle, they looked different. Harder.
“Fine then,” he spat. “I don’t know why I wasted time with you, anyway.”
Wasted time? He was trying to be hurtful. Yeah, well-she could be hurtful, too.
Elle grabbed the bag of chicken soup from the counter and then shoved it, hard, into his chest. She was scared of the anger rising in her. Curling in waves of some unknown ocean, seen from a balcony in an impossible room.
“I put all your shit in a box in the closet around the corner,” Elle said. “Just get it and leave.”
Spencer stopped. He seemed to be gathering something to say, but whatever it was, he stayed silent. He shook his head and then turned the corner before Elle could say anything else.
Elle opened her mouth to speak-to stop him-but then his voice floated over to her, echoing from a new room.
“Hey, where’d this bathroom come from?”
Elle followed his voice to her living room. She stood in the doorway and watched as Spencer spun a tight circle in a spacious bathroom. It was beautiful. A spa bathtub made of coral-colored tile. A marble counter with twin sinks. She saw herself reflected in a mirror that glinted gold beneath bright vanity lights.
“What the hell?”
Elle grabbed the door handle. Spencer was stunned, and even didn’t look at her as she pulled the door closed. The latch caught, and already, she felt the change.