Annual Discretion

Inside the lounge of a swank Las Vegas hotel sits a couple. Pier Paolo and Virna, both are on first glance unremarkable. Not invisible or undeserving of attention, but so absolutely placid neither grabs the eye instantly.

How unlike so many visitors to Vice City. And these are visitors.

The place, time of evening, marks them as out-of-towners. Rendering them conspicuous is their comportment. Neither revels. In fact ennui almost squeezes their compact table.

Night has deepened. Clubbing glad rags nor any increasingly acceptable casual into slovenly styles mar them. Although casually attired, their garment labels are high-end. These they wear with elegance equal to their bearing.

Observers could assume Pier Paolo and Virna a married couple. Around each other they exhibit almost a certain lassitude, an indifference, towards one another. Isn’t that common of long-settled pairs? Besides, wedding rings encircle the proper fingers.

It’s hard to determine who looks the most bored. Perhaps they are distracted or seek distraction.

Both are dark complexioned, sharp-eyed, wary, fit though not chiseled. Unlike the somewhat raucous merrymakers lining the rail and the several other couples around them expressing ostentatious displays of affection, Pier Paolo and Virna seem distant despite their proximity.

While both notice the mismatched couple pair sauntering past the lounge’s open front portals, Virna mentions them first. Well, perhaps they are only noticeable to this pair. Other than them, who else in Las Vegas isn’t attired outrageously, gaudily, or simply strangely? Throngs surrounding them, with whom they interact, have for the most part travelled to Vice City in order to release their inhibitions. Drink too much; gamble too much; laugh too loudly; behave insensibly; shake themselves of communal, familial repression and censure; to anonymously indulge in all manner of untoward proclivities.

Or release as far and as long as what passes for sanctioned and those indiscretions performed in the shadows out of sight.

While most of those strictures which repress them inside their homes involve certain habits family, friends, and neighbors might regard as deviant or unsavory or outright perverse, clothing becomes the most apparent expression. Items squirreled away at home get aired and worn, though rarely judged, in Las Vegas. After all, amid others who’ve similarly discarded good taste who can be an arbiter?

Neither Pier Paolo nor Virna is a priss. Though they don’t flaunt the outward signs, both are quite grateful for the city’s libertinage. Here they can act unbound. Here they hide as well as cavort in anonymity. Nonetheless neither can truly loosen him- or herself from constriction.

Long ago decisions and indecisions and forced decisions have landed them in this place. While overjoyed to have this time together, the roads bringing them here hamper the fullest measure of their pleasure.

Two women cross the couple’s sightline. Virna nods her head and directs Pier Paolo’s complete attention toward the passing pair. A statuesque ebony woman accompanies a less poised alabaster blonde. An interracial duo further distinguished by their clothing.

Any perceived exaggeration is slight. Given the former’s skin tone her escort could be a ghostly vision.

Their outfits are just as dissimilar. While its shade is a demure gray, the black woman’s dress leaves little unrevealed beneath. Indeed hers is a bare-shouldered, knee-length second skin. She walks in black lacquered shoes closer to bondage platforms. These hobble her gait. They throttle her companion’s own stride.

The white woman suffers from this excruciating pace. Her eyes dart between the slowly moving statue and the elevator bank. Elsewhere her clothing might arouse long critical glances. But in Las Vegas brilliant pink hoodie atop swirled silver and pink yoga pants and gym shoes of kaleidoscopic design is an acceptable sartorial combination.

That these two are apparently together provokes even less notice. Only those naïve could wonder what connects them. If anyone bothers considering them, then they know theirs is a transaction. One that will be sealed behind the door of an upper-floor room.

Maybe the few who deign them at all extend brief moments of envy. Pursuit has been fulfilled. Desire may be rewarded. Vicarious enjoyment further fuels an observer’s compulsion to capture his or her own evening’s delights.

“No need to question who’s the huntress and her prey,” Pier Paolo says.

Virna smiles. Her smile dazzles. So much so it lift him and compels a wide grin. Virna ripostes, “Maybe the lure might be a trap. What’s apparent isn’t always so.”

She’s glad that their silence, these only punctured with sips from their cocktails, has ended. They had spent much of the late afternoon into evening exchanging delights. The stay had evolved into its accustomed routine.

Las Vegas hosts an annual managerial conference both faithfully attend. They convene from opposite ends of the world, London and Singapore.

During the days’ brightest hours each dutifully presents him- or herself at several dry obligations. Meetings with industry representatives are taken. Ah, endured. Virna finds it amazing how chatty one becomes under situational duress.

Once a sufficient amount of business has been completed, they beg off socializing with fellow conferees in order to hurry back to the rented house serving as their true lodging. It’s paid for out of pocket. Although each maintains hotel rooms, these only serve to muddy tracks. Verifiable business expenses don’t attract attention, whereas an expensed house somewhat removed from the event should certainly prompt mild inquiry.

Settled in a nondescript split-level set among a lightly-trafficked block, the pair occupies only one of its three bedrooms. And though the barbecue grill remains cold they roil the property’s swimming pool daily. For appearances each packed bathing suits. Packed and neglected. A superfluous but necessary ruse. Just the sort of tossed in detail whose ordinariness ought further lull respective spouses.

Virna believes herself to be a loving wife; Pier Paolo a loving husband. Their one exception to otherwise unquestionable fidelity is this yearly sidestepping sojourn to Las Vegas. On a certain level both would confess to their duplicity and deception. But why create complications of the unnecessary kind? Their solution is workable, if not aboveboard. It’s selfishly designed for them and no one else.

Deceit, diversions allow them to proceed with the clearest of consciences. Away from their homes each places domestic circumstances on the farthest periphery. Besides reveling in the other’s presence, they also enjoy immersing in the ephemeral. Discussing such fleeting subjects with the thoroughness of scholars parsing the most obscure texts imaginable relieves as well as keeps guilt at bay.

Las Vegas doesn’t lack for ephemera or guilt inducements.

The mismatched pair of women who’ve just passed rouse Pier Paolo from minor indolence. He wonders about the mechanics of same-sex relations, particularly between women. Men engaged in the same manner disinterest him.

“Is there an aggressor?” he asks. “How do they accommodate the, um, absent factor? You know, for stimulation. For true satisfaction.”

Skeptical, Virna side-eyes him. “Men aren’t entirely necessary for female satisfaction. We have devices almost entirely capable of dispensing with the male presence.”

“Ah!” Pier Paolo exclaims. “Toys. Really, do women find battery powered tools sufficient substitutes for flesh and blood guided desire? Plastic is unfeeling. Plastic can’t caress. It isn’t tender. It has no likes or dislikes. It just ‘does.’ It can’t detect and adjust to the lover’s needs like a man.”

“Pier Paolo, shall I reveal the benefits of plastic and batteries?”

He ponders her question. “I prefer you show me. Our bed has plenty of pillows. You recline into a comfortable position. I’ll pour us some wine. You in the bed, me in a seat angled for best view while your device mindlessly drives you to the same place I’d thoughtfully accompany you.”

Virna shrugs. “Maybe not the same place. But someplace close by. Um, very close by. And longer.”

After the humdrum of business subsides, they reunite inside the rental. Pier Paolo mixes cocktails, she either fulfills the few domestic chores or puts together a light meal for after their swim. While not a repast what Virna fixes blunts hunger.

One Las Vegas distinction both cherish is that unlike most other American cities refined diners here have options for exquisite meals late into evening.

The maintaining appearances portion of their day dispatched, they disrobe and stride outside and wade into the pool. Theirs aren’t so much strip shows, at least not executed in any fashion intended to tantalize and arouse. The pair’s shedding clothes is far more akin to a long-wedded couple. A pair whose ardor has cooled into familiarity. Outwardly.

Pier Paolo and Virna look past the people they’ve become. His receding hairline, her boyish graying coif, the respective failings and sagging of each’s flesh, wrinkles of varying severity webbing the corners of both sets of eyes and mouths, all those blemishes vanish through the miracle of denial.

Both sift beyond the present fairly effortlessly. Instead, they still discern the decades-ago lineless allures which then captivated and the firm graceful figures that stirred baser needs and nether regions. Hands upon another, bodies pressing, heat that emanates from both during intimacies revives memory and sparks rejuvenation.

What have become annual escapes to Las Vegas restores their vigor to states before the future was irrevocably established. Too late both realized each should’ve walked together along the same lifelong road. Neither could ascertain with whom and where that fault resided.

Hesitancy, unwillingness, impetuousness, impatience all contributed against them. Or so it seemed upon more mature review three decades later. Besides, between the two their story has three versions.

The subject, the forfeited chance at common bliss, couldn’t be discussed without inevitable recriminations. Neither was to blame but both were liable.

They now have these current moments. Why rehash old anguish?

Time and circumstance connived to present them opportunities to reconnect. They unspool new thread. Not only did their past defy reworking, but too much life in the interim prevented regaining it. By starting anew they resume.

Virna refers again to the two women. “Why must there be an aggressor? Can’t there be a give and take of equal inclination?”

“Someone must take charge,” he grunts. “Otherwise it’s just a lot of fumbling and ‘mother may I?’ Hesitation leads to frustration, and frustration is wasted heat and energy.”

She thinks. A moment passes. Virna laughs. “You’re joking.”

“Of course I am,” Pier Paolo says, smiling. “Anyway even if I weren’t the point would be moot because the Amazon is obviously the sort who’ll spread and bend that soft blondie like taffy. Kind of like ‘good child abuse.’ You saw her. She’s quite the physical specimen, no?”

“Um, wonder, just wonder, whether she serves a specific clientele,” Virna says. “Imposing as she is, perhaps she caters to the fantasies of the weak by behaving submissive. Say she starts out as the dominant partner, yes. Then she becomes the subordinate through some sort of turnabout.”

It’s Pier Paolo’s turn to entertain skepticism. “I can’t see that. But I wouldn’t mind watching.”