Around us, white lights twinkled from the branches of thick heritage oaks.
Other circular tables surrounded ours, wine glasses winking in the pass of headlights.
It was the same account that I used for work at a tech startup with an all-male team. Once at the office I ducked into a conference room with the privacy of frosted glass and pulled up an incognito window on my work machine.
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They were mostly screenshots taken from films staring “Wendy James.” I laughed quietly as I read the titles linked to her page.
There was “Trained Teens 3,” the movie that helped me buy my first car, a red convertible that made me feel so L. My skin prickled as I remembered how I’d kept the top down so I could see the palm trees, even when the wind gave my skinny arms goosebumps. But then I couldn’t find a job doing anything else.
It had been my ride to anonymous mansions in the Valley where the cold hands of spray-tanned dudes would slam my hips on top of their dicks. The endless rejection after rounds of casting calls for bit parts in TV pilots that never got picked up anyway mixed with a bank account that always seemed to be plummeting weighed heavy.
They’d call me a whore and I’d say things like “Yes, daddy” in a robotic lilt. The thousand dollars that I’d moved there with drained away fast as I worked on extra sets making $100 a day, really $85 when you figure in the bank fees of cashing the checks that the studios gave us. Two weeks later, a balding man wrote me a $1,200 check for my first porn scene.
he’d moved in with us that March, after sleeping on a couch for too long at her mother’s house.
The week she started eighth grade, she sent me a text: Omg Katie there’s someone here shooting please come get me.
The woman who answered was perky and calm, which didn’t stop me from babbling, “Yes, my stepdaughter—she, she said there was a shooter, I want to pick her up, is everyone okay, where should I go? My teeth had been freshly freed of metal, but I still struggled with my skin and my flat chest and skinny legs.
” In the silence that followed, I heard myself the way she must have heard me: hysterical. My stepdaughter was fourteen the way I had never been fourteen. She was more beautiful, her body more womanly, than any fourteen-year-old has the maturity to handle.
She looked nine again, the age she was when I’d met her in Seattle and she’d given me a cool, appraising glance over her father’s shoulder.
Later that trip, she’d held both our hands, swinging between us with laughter thrown up to low black clouds.
South Congress bustled on a November evening still warm on our skin, though a cool underbelly promised change.