August 16th, 2017.
Disgusted, Lance Felder held Ursula's hips as she gripped the oak headboard. Moaning, the thin, oversexed woman ground her pubic bone into his upper mandible. Painful, but not unbearable. Ursula had wanted to make love—again—but Lance hadn't been able to muster the strength for another mattress rodeo. So he'd begged off, claiming fatigue—not mentioning the half bottle of wine he'd polished off after lunch—and offered her what he called “his specialty” instead: a Felder Tongue Ride. With a sigh and a roll of her Botoxed eyes, Ursula had shrugged off her silk robe and shoved him onto her king-sized bed. Then she'd climbed aboard, straddling Lance's face while he forced his tongue onto her flesh.
Not that Ursula tasted bad. Not at all. She groomed and took care of herself. She just didn't taste young. She didn't taste fresh.
“Oh, honey!” the enraptured woman moaned, rocking her hips to and fro. “Oh, Lance, baby! Oh, yeah! Just...uh!...oh, yeah, right...THERE!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Ursie. Just get off already.
When she had, Ursula slid to Lance's right, collapsing in a sweaty heap. Hands pressed to her face. Lips sputtering. Legs quivering. Bleach-blonde hair a mess. Lance couldn't help but notice the graying roots, the veins in her weathered hands.
“God, Lance! You do that so well!”
“Thanks, babe. You know I love getting you wet.”
With an inner sigh, Lance rolled over and gave Ursula an obligatory kiss. She thrust her tongue in his mouth. He winced but reciprocated.
“What a day. Think I'll take a nap.”
“Sounds good, Ursie.” I guess fucking and lounging by the pool all day is pretty tiresome.
“Wanna join me?”
Lance sat up, hoping his desperation didn't show. “Uh, I'd love to, babe, but I got some work to do.”
Ursula grinned. “The novel, eh?”
“Yeah...the novel.” Just another piece of my heart. Destined to be ignored.
“Is it as good as the first two, you think?”
You mean the first two that were rejected by every publisher on both coasts? “Oh, it's even better.”
“That's great, darling! I can't wait to read it...”
“When it's finished, babe. You know that.”
“I know.” Ursula yawned, exposing capped, bleached teeth. “But you know I get impatient.”
“Oh, I know,” Lance replied with no trace of sarcasm.
“Hey, would you be a doll and mix me a rum and Coke.”
“Yeah, sure.” And I'll be sure to take it easy on the Coke.
Another yawn. “Thank you, honey.”
Lance climbed over Ursula—enduring another kiss—and strode into the hall. Barefoot. Shirtless. His upper body toned and tanned. Dark hair jouncing on his shoulders. A thick beard hiding his forlorn expression. He wore a pair of ripped designer jeans, slacker style; low on his hips, top button undone. At thirty-two, he still looked twenty, but felt much older. A Bohemian soul, no longer young at heart.
All that money, and all she does is drown her troubles in booze day after day...
Hands thrust in his jean pockets, Lance turned left, walking down the wide staircase.
The day had gotten off to a bad start, and promised to end even worse. Lance had awoken next to Ursula, slipped out of bed without waking her, and crept downstairs. The maid, Louisa, had wished him a good morning and started a pot of coffee. Outside, Lance had gone through his morning workout of push-ups, crunches, and twenty laps in the pool. Then, coffee in hand, he'd opened his e-mail to find two rejection notices from two different publishers:
Dear Mr. Felder,
Thank you for your recent submission. Unfortunately, this doesn't meet our publishing needs at this time. Feel free to submit again. Good luck publishing your novel elsewhere.
Two of those in one day. Talk about heartache.
Lance had sat, head in hand, for awhile, then plunged back into his current novel. The story of a man traveling cross-country by train, en route to see his dying father one last time. A good story. A worthwhile story. A story he had to finish. Lance had gotten a few strong sentences down when Louisa appeared to inform him that Ursula had awoken. Of course, he didn't have to drop everything and rush to her side...but he did, anyway.
Gotta keep the bread buttered.
Ursula always slept in the nude; said it made her feel young. Looking at her naked form, Lance couldn't help but notice the wrinkles and creases creeping into her flesh. She tried, though. Oh, how she tried. Personal trainers. Weird diets. Plastic surgery. But Father Time had grabbed hold, and wouldn't let go. She had twenty years on Lance; old enough to be his mother. Still, he'd climbed back into bed as he had so many mornings and reassured Ursula as best he could. Still beautiful. Still desirable. They'd begun in the normal way, but after growing tired of her desperate kisses, Lance had flipped her over and vented his frustrations at not being published with every thrust.
And Ursula had loved it.
Afterward, they look a long shower, then went down to breakfast. Ursula drank her coffee, then had a Bloody Mary. Starting the day off right. The rest of her morning consisted of phone calls to her rich housewife friends. Women who had nothing better to do all day than check bank statements and bitch about their husbands. Lance wanted no part of that, and avoided the pool area until she went for her afternoon drive. Sometimes he went, but today he felt no desire to stare at trees in the middle of nowhere.
“Goddamn waste of time,” Lance muttered, sauntering into the kitchen. Soon, Ursula's friends would start trickling in. They'd just want to say hi, have a drink, or take a dip in the pool. Some would pull her away to ask for a loan. She didn't think Lance knew about that, but he did. At first, it had bothered him, but now he felt little sympathy for Ursula Klinke. She'd made her bed with those people; let her lie in it with them.
Ursula. Lance first met her three years ago. He'd been waiting on tables at the Stark City Steakhouse downtown. Good money; a way to make ends meet while he wrote in his free time. Ursula had arrived one night accompanied by a handsome, well-dressed man. She'd looked ravishing, decked out in a black evening gown and fur coat. Lance had winked at her as he'd approached her table, and she'd begun flirting with him in earnest, almost ignoring her young date. Thus, he hadn't been too surprised to find her phone number scribbled onto the check after Ursula left. He'd texted her as soon as he got home, and she'd texted back, complaining that her date had been a lousy lay. Lance had a few girlfriends in his life at the time, but nothing serious. So he'd jumped at the chance to hang out with this attractive, older lady.
And that's how it always starts. Very innocent.
Clink, clink! went two ice cubes into a tall glass. Lance dusted the ice with ground cinnamon, then poured a hefty dose of Bacardi over them. He cracked open a fresh Coke, sucked fizz from the rim, and filled the glass. “Here's to us, Ursie,” he toasted, taking a sip.
“Ahhh. Not too bad, if I say so myself.”
From the beginning, Lance knew he wouldn't last with Ursula. She'll get bored with me in a month and trade up, he figured. But Ursula surprised him. Twice divorced, she'd played the field for a few years and wanted to settle down again. So a month became two, and during that time Ursula read everything Lance had written. “You're so talented,” she'd cooed in his ear each night. “Just think what you could accomplish if you wrote full time...”
Quite an invitation. But Lance hadn't accept right away. Sure, he'd jumped into bed with Ursula without hesitation, but quitting his job and moving in with her seemed like a huge step. So he'd thought about it for a whole week. Thought long and hard about being a “kept man.” At first, it seemed great; being wined and dined on someone else's dime. And he had as much free time as any writer could want. But, day by day, he'd seen the growing desperation in Ursula's eyes. She didn't love him; she just needed someone to make her feel young and vibrant. That need—and Ursula's drunken lifestyle—had turned Lance's affection into utter contempt. Now the depressed young man felt as if he'd made a deal with the devil. Lucifer in high-heels.
And he still hadn't gotten published.
For all of her wealth and socialite friends, Ursula had zero contacts in the publishing industry. Which left poor Lance in the same boat as about a million other authors: writing, submitting, hoping...and despairing.
Unfortunately, your novel doesn't meet our publishing needs at this time.
“Crock of shit blow-off, is what that is.”
Drink in hand, Lance glanced outside, saw his laptop on the table beneath the umbrella. Like a magnet, it drew him, and he crossed the den as if entranced. “Just once I'd like an editor to tell the truth...”
The cement felt warm under his bare feet as he stepped onto the patio. Sunlight reflected off the pool. “'Dear Mr. Felder...I regret to inform you that we don't give a shit about the literary merit of your novel...'”
Next to his laptop lay an old notebook, pen on top. Next to the notebook lay a battered copy of Betrayed At Birth, a tawdry memoir written by some porn star named Angelique du Mal. Ursula had loaned it to him. Damn thing had sold over three million copies.
“'You don't have a recognizable name that we can bank on, and that's just not good business. Also, we're looking for stories that make teenagers feel like they're the center of the universe. There's also a market for bored housewives. You know, something for them to fantasize about while vacuuming the rug and mixing up cake batter. A cheap thrill. And the cheaper, the better...'”
Beneath Betrayed At Birth lay a copy of The Writer's Market; all the publishing information one could ever want between its covers. Sipping the rum and Coke, he slid it out, held it up to the light. “'Also, you're un-agented, Mr. Felder. Really, now, you're wasting our time and yours...'”
Lance belched, grinned a vulpine grin. Then he heard it. A shrill voice from the upstairs bedroom. Ursula. Lucifer in high heels:
“Laaance! Oh, Laaance! Where's my drink, sweetheart? It's nap time and Mommy's getting crabby!”
Another sip, and the grin became grim. “'But keep on writing, Mr. Felder. Because you never know.'”
Lance glanced at his laptop. He wanted, needed to write. No matter what. And he would, no matter what. He also wanted out of this nightmare; pretending to love a woman he didn't, but having nowhere else to go.
“Lance, honey, are you using the toilet or something?”
Trembling, the frustrated young writer turned back to the pool. “'You never know, Mr. Felder.' Yeah, right.”
Then he tossed his Writer's Market into the crystal blue water, returned to the bedroom, and somehow found the strength to make love to Ursula Klinke one more time.
About Jesse Rucilez:
Jesse Lynn Rucilez was born in Reno, Nevada. Growing up, Jesse was an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes stories and Marvel Comics. Throughout his life, Jesse has mainly worked in the security industry, both in Seattle, Washington and Reno, Nevada, and taught self-defense for several years before deciding to focus on writing. Inspired by authors such as Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Kurt Vonnegut, he prefers to write literary horror and science fiction, exploring what he calls “the dark side of the American Dream.”