“a face badly in need of a fist”
Maisie hops from one foot to the other, her oversized backpack flopping up and down as we wait on the front porch for Brian to pick her up. For the past two days, she’s been chattering nonstop about spending the night with Daddy. How they’re going to eat cheeseburger Happy Meals, color pictures of mermaids, and stay up all night watching Disney princess movies. She’ll probably conk out by eight thirty, but I love her optimism.
Her backpack contains an orange-and-white-striped tank top, pink polka-dot shorts, eight pairs of underwear, sock monkey–themed pajamas, a purple toothbrush, a box of crayons, a brand-new mermaid coloring book, her beloved plush giraffe named Fred, and—inexplicably—a snorkel tube. I gently suggested she leave the snorkel tube at home, but she insisted she might need it.
Maisie chants in sync with her hops, “Hap-py Me-uhl! Hap-py Me-uhl!”
All I can do is hope Brian won’t let her down.
I don’t have a romantic story of the night Brian and I met. Not even a meet-cute. We met at a bar when we were both a little drunk and sunburned after a day on Los Olas Beach. He called me “blondie” and bought me a margarita, and I was flattered. The only other guy who’d looked my way that night had said, “Pretty face. Nice tits. Too bad the rest is…” He didn’t finish the sentence. He curled up his nose like my body was too disgusting to consider. Brian thought I was hot, so I slept with him.
“Maybe we should go in the house and get a cold drink while we wait,” I suggest, realizing Brian is fifteen minutes late.
Mom gives me a pointed look through the screen door. She doesn’t say anything, but words are unnecessary when her expression is barbed with meaning. Like I need to be reminded that Brian is unreliable. Tightness gathers in my chest thinking about it, and I take a deep breath to make sure my lungs work.
Inside, Maisie flatly refuses to remove her backpack as I lift her onto a barstool at the breakfast counter. I pour her a glass of guava juice while Mom offers her a couple of peanut butter cracker sandwiches.
“Daddy will be here soon,” Maisie declares, fervent with unwarranted faith in a man who spends most of his free time playing Overwatch. To be fair, she’s only known him for three years, so he hasn’t had as many opportunities to disappoint her. And it’s not Maisie’s fault I accidentally procreated with the most irresponsible man in Fort Lauderdale.
When Brian pulls into the driveway in his tricked-out blue Hyundai, I catch Maisie from falling as she launches herself off the barstool to greet him on the porch. I need to check myself, because I’ve been known to do the same. Brian may have peaked in high school, but that hasn’t stopped him from being adorable.
“Daddy, I told Mama you would be here soon.” Maisie throws her arms around his thighs and squeezes. “And now you are!”
“Here I am.” He ruffles her hair as he offers me a dimpled grin.
“Did you remember to bring a car seat?” I ask, torn between giving in to that grin and yelling at him for being late. The tightness in my chest expands and it feels like I have a school of live fish swimming circles beneath my sternum. “Or do you need to borrow mine again?”
“Um…” His shoulders sag.
I hit the button on my key fob with a sigh, unlocking my car. “What time do you plan on bringing her home?”
“I have a delivery shift in the afternoon, so maybe after breakfast?” Brian hefts Maisie’s car seat, transferring it.
“You could join us,” he says. “Meet us at Lester’s on your way home from work.”
Hanging out at Lester’s Diner used to be our thing. We’d sit for hours, nursing bottomless cups of black coffee because we were broke. Even after Maisie was born, she’d sleep in her carrier in the booth beside me while Brian and I shared an order of loaded fries. Four years later, I’m still living with my mom. Brian and I haven’t moved in together, much less gotten married. My life goals shifted into low gear when I got pregnant. And Brian has never stopped being broke, because he spends all his money on video games and modifications for his stupid car. Objectively, he’s useless, but also super hard for me to resist. My resolve wobbles. It’s that damn grin.
“Mama, please?” Maisie begs, and I crack open like a Cadbury Creme Egg.
“Okay, baby. I’ll see you in the morning.” I lean down to give her one more hug. As I rise, Brian kisses my cheek and I lightly push him away. “Get out of here, and don’t drive too fast with your daughter in the car.”
Brian also spends a lot of money on traffic violations.
When they’re gone, I stop at the mailbox. Cable bill. Water bill. Coupon flyer. There’s also a postcard from Anna. After my sister lost her fiancé, Ben, to suicide, she took his sailboat and went to sea alone. I thought it was selfish and irresponsible, especially when she hardly knew anything about sailing. But as I hold a photo of the Caribbean island where Anna has been staying the past few months, I’m jealous that she walked out of her life and into a better, happier one. I don’t want her to be unhappy, but we got along better when we were both miserable.
I turn over the postcard.
Living the dream!
I love my sister, but … I hate her a tiny bit.
As I come in the front door, Mom steps out of her bedroom. She’s never been Brian’s biggest fan, so she frequently disappears when he’s around. She shakes a warning finger at me. “Don’t let him back into your life again, Rachel.”
“We have a kid together,” I say, heading to my room for a nap before work, ready to draw the blackout curtains on my world for a few hours. Ready for the anxiety fish to rest. “Like it or not, Brian is part of my life.”
“All I’m saying is, he’s never going to change.”
Mom has told me so many times that I can do better, but no matter how often I listen to Lizzo on repeat, there’s a quiet voice in the back of my head that wonders if Brian Schroeder is the best I’m ever going to get.
The hotel where I work is a Miami Beach luxury high-rise, but it also features private oceanfront bungalows that cost more per night than my mother’s monthly mortgage payment—and are nearly as big as our house. Celebrities and politicians are frequent guests, and we’re especially popular with foreign soccer stars and their families. Our VIP guests can call the concierge desk and get almost anything their hearts desire.
I’m not officially a concierge—at least not yet—but I’m the night reception manager, which means it’s my responsibility to meet the overnight concierge needs of our VIP guests. Most requests aren’t much different from those of regular guests: more towels, a pair of tweezers, an additional fluffy robe. But sometimes they get a little more creative. Like the parents who asked for thirty extra pillows so their kids could build a fort. Or the time I had to send one of our valets to the nearest all-night sex shop for an assortment of toys, including a leather riding crop. One regular guest wants a glass of raw milk with her 5:00 A.M. post-yoga breakfast, so we arrange a local dairy delivery every morning at four thirty—practically fresh from the cow—for the duration of her stay. And once, when I was nearly finished with my shift, the Beckham family required a security sweep for paparazzi in the seagrass around their bungalow before they stepped out onto the beach for the day.
Maisie is the biggest joy of my life, but working at Aquamarine runs an awfully close second. I love the atmosphere, the energy, and the pride in knowing our guests could have chosen any hotel in Miami Beach, but they chose ours because we’ll make sure their stay is as close to perfect as you can get.
It’s nearly ten when I clock in and log on to the digital concierge portal. Ms. Whitaker is staying with us tonight and the dairy has already been scheduled to deliver her raw milk. There are only a handful of requests for wake-up calls and early airport limousines, but anything can happen between 10:00 P.M. and 7:00 A.M.
Cecily peeks her head into the office. She’s been the evening concierge for the past ten years and I secretly covet her job. I don’t mind having to fetch sex toys for a visiting dominatrix, but Cecily was once tasked with buying a Maserati for a Saudi Arabian prince.
“Thought you should know that Blackwell is here,” she says. “He checked in earlier tonight.”
Peter Rhys-Blackwell is … well, no one is exactly sure what he does for a living. His Wikipedia entry calls him an entrepreneur, a promoter, and a real estate developer, but mostly he’s known for being seen with celebrities and splashing out cash like he prints it himself. He’s in his late sixties. Recently divorced from wife number four. He can be exceptionally generous and thoughtful, but according to the staff whisper network, he can also be racist, misogynistic, and homophobic. And I can attest to the fact that he has difficulty keeping his hands to himself. His behavior is tolerated because most of us can’t afford to do otherwise. Standing up to someone like Blackwell takes a safety net many of my coworkers don’t have.
“Appreciate the heads-up,” I say, offering a silent prayer that Blackwell is already asleep in his bungalow and stays that way for the rest of the night. Not likely, given that Miami Beach never sleeps, but one can hope.
I spend the first hour of my shift making late-night dinner reservations, booking car services, and ordering an extra-large anchovy pizza for a couple of drunk Australian rugby players camped out in the lobby. Right before my dinner break, I deliver a bottle of Tylenol to a guest with a pained back. After scarfing down a Publix Cuban sandwich and a Diet Coke, I return to the desk as the front doors swing open. Blackwell strides into the lobby wearing white Gucci driving loafers, a giant gold watch, and a pink Hawaiian shirt covered in parrots and palm leaves paired with white shorts. His cologne reaches me first.
I step out from behind the reception desk and give him a welcoming smile. The employee handbook requires it, but after this many years, it’s automatic. “Good evening, Mr. Rhys-Blackwell. Enjoying your stay at Aquamarine?”
“Always a pleasure to see you, Rachel.”
I’m surprised he knows my name until I remember I’m wearing a name tag. “You too, sir.”
“How’s your little one?” he asks, dipping a hand into the pocket of his shorts and pulling out a money clip. “A daughter, right?”
“Yes.” That he legitimately remembers I have a daughter softens me, and when my smile widens, it’s authentic. Talking about Maisie has that effect on me. Every single time. “She’s nearly four.”
“I remember when my youngest was that age.” He peels a bill off the stack of cash in his hand, and I pretend not to notice. First, because it’s unbecoming behavior for an Aquamarine employee. Second, because it still boggles my mind that someone could have that much cash casually sitting in their pocket. Blackwell has hundreds, while I’m lucky if I have a quarter for the Aldi shopping cart. He says, “She was hell on wheels.”
“I’ve been fortunate so far.” I tap my knuckles lightly on the desk. “Maisie is an awesome kid.”
“With a mother like you, how could she be anything else?” Blackwell leans in, pressing the money into my palm with one hand as the other comes to rest between my hip and my ass. “Have a bottle of Macallan and a cigar—nothing cheap—sent to my bungalow, will you, sweetheart?”
“Certainly, sir.” I take a step back before his touch can become a grope. “Right away.”
Blackwell makes a low, satisfied hum in his throat that kind of creeps me out, and winks. “Such a good girl.”
He saunters in the direction of the doors leading outside to the bungalows. As Peter Rhys-Blackwell encounters go, this one wasn’t too icky. I glance down to find a one-hundred-dollar bill in my hand. There’s no rule that says I can’t accept tips, but I don’t feel completely comfortable keeping this much money. Except, Maisie’s birthday is coming up, and she’s been begging for a bike with training wheels. I tuck the cash into the pocket of my uniform skirt. I’ll decide later.
Ordinarily I’d notify the bar manager of Blackwell’s request and he’d have someone from his staff deliver, but it’s Friday night, and the bar is crowded. Instead I double-check the portal to see which brand of cigar Blackwell prefers and then add it to his room charge, along with the bottle of twenty-five-year-old whiskey, and prepare the room service tray myself.
Copyright © 2022 by Trish Doller