8 – frosted cake
Renton feels the blankets, tucked over to his head. It's very comfortably silky on his contours. He hears the whir of traffic outside, and the bustling noise of the populace, the banjo music muffled. He's always been hearing it faintly through his sleep, but only now does he become acutely aware of the noise.
So he shifts himself in the sheets, almost expecting his mum to bust into his room again, burst the door open, "Wake up!" when he prefers another half-hour of nappy time.
This bed is different. It's more gentler and softer than his own bed.
He really opens his eyes, and to his partial surprise, he doesn't recognise the sparsely elegant hotel room he's woken up in. All the lights have been dimmed – in the corner by the closet is an open luggage bag, and he sees the ornate makeup bag on the table, along with a white paper carton.
Feeling groggy, he gets himself out of bed, noticing he's dressed in the same clothes he wore that night at his home city, except for his socks, and shuffles over to the haze of light streaming in through the window curtains.
His heart beating, Renton pulls aside the curtains.
He doesn't recognise the numerous colourful lights over the horizon, or all the skylights which seem to fight against the darkness of the dusk. And the airships up low in the sky.
Then he realises – he's in Las Vegas!
It's the city he's never thought of ever visiting; of course, he's seen the city as viewed through the TV and movies; the original CSI show, Scorsese's 'Casino' (1995), but this is.. with his own eyes, the sight of the city is overwhelming, and almost makes him want to faint..
Just how high up on the hotel is he? He glances below, and far down, he sees the fountains spew out alight water jets, and a sense of vertigo washes over him – he is backing away from the window, afraid that he could just drop down by accident (even though there's a window).
He thinks of the luggage again; who's in here with him? He turns up the lights, and the anodyne lamps shine and he sees the beige carpet and walls clearly, with the beds and couches and counters complenting the layout. On the walls are portraits of dancers, in inky sketches, and Renton heads to the open luggage, his hands sifting through the contents, the box of chocolate and sweet perfumes (it smells just like her)-
He's with LeBlanc!
And just inconveinently, the door opens, and she's striding in.. with a red bathrobe that isn't wrapped too well, so he sees glimpes of her bare midsection.
"Oh, Renton.." LeBlanc goes, "you're awake."
"Yeah.." He gulps on the inside, suddenly nervous, seeing her exposed like this. But he can't help staring as she gets an outfit from her wardrobe, and heads inside the washroom to change.
Then a question hits him — "Hey, how long have I been out?"
"Did you just wake up?" she asks him.
"Then I'd say about the whole 10 hours," she goes. "You've slept through dinner and much of our enjoyment time here."
".. damnit!" he exclaims, angry about the missed time he could have spent having fun. "What did you guys do?"
"Oh, we went to Casinos, I watched Twisted Fate and Lulu try their hands at poker.. they scored three times their original bets overall, and I myself did a game of baccarat – no such luck for me, unfortunately."
And Renton imagines the rich atmosphere inside the Casino, with the chattering people yelling whenever they'd score a big win, and the ringing of the slot machines, and with an air of desperate excitement around it.. the guards would be there, patrolling, always waiting to catch someone even thinking of cheating, or someone who's gotten so absorbed in their gambling they need a time-out.
It's such a vice, like cigarettes, but in this city of vices, where you can practically drown in electric dreams, it seems even your wildest dreams might come true.
"With their winnings," LeBlanc continues, "we treated outselves out to some nice buffet, where I saved some food back for you to eat, and we saw a marathon of Alain Delon's crime capers in a vintage movie theatre."
"You should have woken me up-!" Renton goes. "I.. I can't believe I missed-"
"Non," LeBlanc goes. "Actually, I'm very glad you managed to catch up on your sleep. It is something you should not take for granted, a good rest; I rarely get the chance to have that, and all I can do is micro-nap or meditate, whilst putting additional caffeine into my system."
She comes out of the washroom, now in her pajamas.
"You were.." Renton goes.
"I was bathing on the first floor, in the pools." She's hung over lingerie over the shower railings for drying, having been washed in the sink. "Lulu.. I think she's a bit tired now of riding the carousels. I'm not sure about Heimerdinger and the others currently."
Renton starts to feel weak and peckish; he thinks of the white carton on the counter, and wonders how-
"There's a microwave, right beside the freezer," LeBlanc points out, remembering Renton's hunger. "You can warm it up; I'd say about two minutes will do fine."
The food, a pack of spiced noodles and onions, broccoli, peppers and marinated chicken – it comes out sizzling from the microwave after those two minutes.
"Aahh-!" Renton yelps, touching the paper carton inside.
"I must have been too generous with the time," LeBlanc goes, giggling to herself. "Sorries. Just wait a while until it cools down.. there's forks under the microwave counter, I recall."
So Renton gets out a nice fork with napkin, and lays them by the microwave. While it's cooling down, LeBlanc turns on the TV, and the news is eagerly reporting about the Black Rose's upcoming show in two days. She does some stretches, and yawns, leaning back onto the comfy couch – realising how spent she's been recently. You never get any room just to breathe, and it's nice just to be able to do nothing, except your pleasure's whimsy.
"This is Melissa Redgrave, reporting live from FOX News 28!" the reporter goes, standing in front of the blocky MGM Grand Resort. "We're at the MGM Casino & Hotel, and two nights from now, we'll be witness to an extraordinary showing from the grandmasters of illusion and magical delight – the Societe de Black Rose!"
There are a bunch of eager fans by the camera, all doing wild antics to garner attention; waving, jumping, one of them doing an improvised scatting session.
"And as you can see," the reporter goes, "we have plenty of fans who are just as eager as anyone else about their presence here in Las Vegas- excuse me, sir, what's your name?"
LeBlanc's hand is idly reaching underneath her shirt, giving her own belly a gentle massage.
"LeRoy!" the guy goes – he was the one scatting. "And I'mma tell you folks on your couches something real! I send y'all good will, love and peace through all your television sets, just as LeBlanc sends me her good love and peace on the stage! Wooo!"
LeBlanc giggles; it's encouraging to know how mesmerised you can make people.
"And what about you ma'am?" the reporter goes, pointing her mic at an old lady who's doing jumping jacks.
"Oh, me?" the old lady goes. "I was doing some jumping jacks.."
"Do you have anything to say about the Black Rose?"
"Oh.. erm, I thought this was some exercise group or somethin'.. but I wish them all the best in dazzlin' and razzlin' everyone's eyes. I need to get home to feed my puppy."
Renton is snacking on his food by the table – he's delecting with the rich, salty flavour, with the somewhat oily noodles sliding down his tongue as he chews. Mmmph. It's so good. And so filling that by the time he's done, he is bloated (in a good way). *Brrrp!*
"And you, little lady?" the reporter goes, notioning at a petite girl with a pink headband.
"What's your favourite a-minal?" the girl goes, grinning. "A bear?" She giggles. Then someone (heavily tattooed) in a trenchcoat takes her hand and leads her off.
"Oh." The reporter regains her composure. "Well, for the record, I like tigers. Rawr! But anyways, this is Melissa Redgrave, and we're all excited about the Black Rose! I wonder what they have planned up their sleeves. Now back to you, Goodman."
LeBlanc switches the TV channel to something with a flashy cartoon on it; and Renton recognises it as Claymore the Third, where all the 47 Claymores protecting the land are up against a fog of deceit and treachary from their own organisation. His eyes are eagerly peeled to the screen, and he utters, "Hey, can you turn that up?"
"What's this?" LeBlanc asks.
Renton explains the gist of the show to her, and how it's one of the top 10 watched shows across the world – everyone is hyping up for the season finale, and he doesn't want to miss a thing.
"Oh. That sounds cool," she goes, her eyes staring in a sort of disbelief at the flashy action – she recalls back around the late 90s, when little kids have been hospitalised from an episode of Pokemon, and she wonders if standards have changed somehow over the times.
And all the while, Renton is energised by the thought of her seeing something he really likes. He wonders if she'll ever realise he sees her like Clare on that show.
It turns to a commercial break, and they're advertising a new 'Clap On—Clap off!' for modern homes.
Then he remembers.
"Hey.." he goes, approaching LeBlanc on the sofa. "I dreamt something.." He sits on a spot beside her, and now she is glancing at him attentively.
A beat. Renton's trying to recall the images. "You and I were in a field together, and.." He hesitates.
"A field?" LeBlanc blinks. "And what happened?"
She notices him gulping, like he's suddenly stumbled onto a psychological speed bump. His eyes quiver.
"Erm.." he begins, tugging at his collar. "You.. and I.. we-"
She thinks it is a bit of a steamy dream he's had about her – it can get awkward, trying to get it out of your mouth. So she comforts him. She rests her hand on his shoulder. "If you don't feel like telling me Renton.. you don't have to. It's alright."
For some reason, it makes him so – frustrated and a little sad, a combination of the two. She'll never know how it had felt for him, the experience of his dream with her.
And now he remembers the haunting sadness, feeling it vividly, welling up in his chest, and it is like he could choke from the feeling, and his awareness grows faint-
once, he's read through a beauty magazine in a lounge somewhere, and he remembers a whole page devoted to an ad, just a black-and-white image of a woman, with the tulips grown over from the hanging branches, and he couldn't help staring at it – peeking every once in a while to gaze upon its evocative beauty-
"Renton?" he hears her.
He barely stirs out of his induced stupour – he is beginning to tear up. (He's so close to telling her how beautiful he finds her, but surely, there are 10,000 other people who must have already expressed the same thing in the past, and how in the hell can he make his own feelings matter if he's just a mere drop in that big ocean? Alors, such a loss for words..)
"Renton, are you alright?" In his eyes, LeBlanc recognises the same tinge that was barely detectable before, but it is much more overt now. A teardrop falls down his cheek, and another one.. She raises a finger to brush away the wetness.
"I.." he begins. ("I" what? "I"-dea? Eye got your tongue? Hehehehe.) Non.. I don't have any right to just tell her I love her. Is this even love? I don't know. It's just a selfish feeling maybe. I'll just ruin myself in front of her..
non, I can't..
"Help me.." he whimpers, sobbing, reaching for his chest, where his heart is beating, no, crumbling under the emotions. "It hurts.."
There is a bit of detachment in her, seeing him like this. It reminds her too much of herself, when she is faced with unbearable pain – and seeing that in him here, it is like glancing through a mirror, and it makes her feel self-consciously shy.. how someone else can feel the same things as her.
A pang echoes in her own heart, and she finds her own arms wrapping around him, pulling him close against her, and feeling him letting go onto her shoulder.
And he's so warm, and just to hold him, there is a pleasure in doing so.
She suspects that his hurting has something to do with her – he started crying when.. he wasn't able to get his dream out to her. It must be important to him.
Her hands reach underneath his shirt, and she just pets him, her hands rubbing down his bare back.
Wordlessly, she continues doing this, to soothe him.
"LeBlanc.." he says, starting to float on a cloud. "I.. it feels so good.."
"Yes it does."
To touch another human being in kindness, it is innately good. It's the first way a newborn knows he won't have to be alone in the dark, facing the nothingness of the night.
"LeBlanc.." he whispers, "do you like me..?"
"Do you.. love me..?"
She looks at him, his eyes noticably red, open, and pure. If she'd told him that for even one second, from the moment she's met him that she didn't love him – it would be an absolute lie. How she would have never thought that bird.. out of purest chance, would have brought someone like him into her arms.
She can still sense the pizza flavours clinging onto him, along with his body odour, and the leftovers he's eaten from his mouth.
Then she pulls him up by the hand. "Come."
She leads him over to the washroom, where she flicks the flourescent light on; the sink is her focus, and she opens up another toothbrush parsel.
Renton is passive to her actions, a recipiant. He isn't sure what is really going on, only that it is benevolent. Before he knows it, she puts the toothbrush in his mouth, with the pink bubblegum syrup (as provided by the hotel), and lathers his teeth and gums with the crisp flavour, and rinses his mouth with the water.
In her hands, he is like a pretty doll, who she's making up for bed.
And after she's scrubbed his face, and run a disposible shaving razor over his growing whiskers – she does not hesitate in telling him, "Get undressed."
".. right now?" Renton asks.
"Oui." She heads to the bathtub, where she plugs in the drain and starts filling it with water – not too hot that it is so unbearably scathing, but also she needs it to be suitably warming, so when he gets out, he's left with a blushing feeling.
This is so resembling of his dream.. is this alright? It isn't as if she's just pervertedly wanting to see him bare and naked.
Besides, he wonders if it would lead to more of him floating in clouds.
So he peels off the sports sweater and shirt he's had on for a while, and lays it on a stool, and then his pants, and socks, and finally underwear. He can really feel the cool, air-conditioned room, and the tub is already filled close to its brim, steaming, and LeBlanc has added a few drops of bubble bath to it so it's lathered.
She holds him steady as he steps inside, quickly getting used to its heat, and when he's all in, she dips his head in the water, wetting his hair, dripping, and lathers the vanilla shampoo-
It had been quite silent between them, a bit uncomfortably so for her, and all she's heard out of him is the occasional moan or whimper when she's bumped the toothbrush on a particularly sore spot with his gums.
"I miss doing this.." she confesses to him.
"When I was younger," she tells him, "before I joined the Black Rose, I had clients who I made love to. I was a courtesan."
"A courtesan.." Renton digests the word.
"In plainer terms, a prostitute," she explains, reaching for the body wash. "I'd wash them myself before I did my business with them, because some of them could be quite dirty, without knowing it. Cleaning them was a way of me getting to know them, and also.. it just feels nice doing so."
Suddenly, Renton is having funny feelings stirring inside, and she is going over his neck, his shoulders and arms, and his chest..
What is he supposed to say to her? He's been taught all through his life about the hazards and dangers of grown-ups taking advantage of younger people, with the PSAs and the Sex Ed. classes. It is supposedly traumatising, even for life – but.. (yes, in cases where the grown-up is just a mean bum on the inside, like a priest with very repressed desires)
Here, he actually doesn't mind her doing this. Her hands go over him gently, and she's rinsing around his belly button, where under that, she detachedly goes over his genitals (he ticklishly squirms) and then around his inner thighs, and his knees.. and his legs and his ten little piggies who have been weathering inside the shoes, and need a good scrubbing.
"I know it is not appropriate to be touching you," LeBlanc goes, her arms sopping wet too. "Like this. But you looked so hurt to me, so I wish to comfort you. I'm too.. am alone."
And once that is done, he's rinsed as throughly as she can give him, she tells him to undo the drain, and grabs a towel for him to dry himself off.
"My clothes..!" Renton goes, but LeBlanc shakes her head as she gathers them into a pile outside. "What will I wear.."
"The first thing I'll do for you is obtain you a good wardrobe," she tells him. "These clothes.. I don't like the idea of you sleeping in them, not after you've been wearing them for so long. I'll send them downstairs to the laundry to be washed."
So she leads him to the bed where he was sleeping, and tucks him under the sheets, taking his covering towel back to the washrooms.
The lights are dimmed, and the TV is still on, where Clare is in a rocky situation – she's pinned down to the wall by the Maestermind, and he is making a big revelation towards her- gasp! He is her father, and she's always been his experiment from day one! Dun dun dun!
Renton scoffs – it's a cheesy twist of events, but it still works wonders when he really can't wait for the last two episodes of the show to air the following weeks.
He finds it very airy, sleeping under the sheets in his bare skin. He was never allowed to do that at home, even if it got so sweltering hot during the summers; his mum would gasp like he just did when she'd pull away his sheets the following morning, "Wake up! It's late!" and act like she's stumbled across him caught in the act.
As if his mum has never seen him naked before.. but that was when he's very young, and he.. he really sort of misses the genuine tenderness that was there, with his parents, that he didn't realise had existed until he's older and had the chance to look back.
LeBlanc is quick in asking an attendant on the first floor to get Renton's clothes washed and ready the first thing next morning. It's around 11:22 PM, and the bustling of the decorous lobby, where there are usually lots of people who scuttle from the casinos to rides to the drink bars.. it's quieter now, and you get the sense of some people wanting to be in their beds by this point. Unless you're expecting to win $50,000 dollars from a slot machine (and rightly so; people have heard rumours that the Casino has rigged one of many slot machines to give out that sum in cash, once every month).
When she's back up on the 12th floor, and she makes her way into her room again, the TV is blaring what looks like a Hindi melodrama – lots of reaction shots, the family members so surprised and shocked.. because Aamir Khan has revealed that he's pregnant, and he'll be the third man in India to have carried a baby to term.
She's feeling quite.. "Yawwwwnn.." Tired. So she scuttles for the remote – it's by Renton's bed, and he seems a bit bored of the TV, so she shuts the telly off.
And it is just her and him now, against the nightly backdrop of a still-thriving Vegas.
She lingers over him, a barely lit silhouette, listening to the sound of him breathing, and then she pulls herself under the same sheets as him.
"LeBlanc.." he goes. "I don't feel tired.."
"Oui.. but I am. It just takes me a while to fall asleep.. can you tell me about anything, Renton? Such as your dream? I want to hear.."
"I was.. we were playing at the local mall, where the arcade machines are. And I was showing you how to play this game.. BioMenace.."
"Oh? What's BioMenace about?"
"It's where you are a CSIS agent, Snake Logan, and the whole world has become infested by mutant monsters because of a 10th grade biology experiment gone wrong. So you are just fighting wave after waves of monsters, hoping to survive to the next level. And.."
"You shoot them? The powerups? The high scores?" (She knows the gist of arcade games – having played several herself earlier on. The mechanics of the gameplay are designed to be addictive, to allow the player to [begrudgingly] accept failure by pumping in a few more coins. And a few more after that.)
"Yeah. And I showed you how to play the game.. you eventually get a high score."
"I wanted you to type in your real name.. but you typed in mine instead, because- I think because you said it was me who goaded you into the game, into winning."
"And.. I'm in a nice room, and there's a washroom.."
"Oh, did it look like this room?"
"No, it's different. But I went into the tub, and I was playing with a rubber duckie.. and.."
"Heheh." Renton clears his throat. "And suddenly, it was like the I was chasing the rubber duckie down a water slide.. if I didn't, then the other people in line behind me, they'd call me a coward. So.. that's the end of my dream."
"But I don't think.." LeBlanc goes. "There is something else, that you couldn't tell me.. and you cried because of it."
Renton is more comfortable now, being able to tell her without inhibitive worry. "We were naked, on the stage.. dancing, holding each other against the cold."
Then he feels her shuffle her hand up, finding his face, his cheeks, just brushing his shin with her fingers.
"I.." Renton goes, finding the words to express that one desire – the way she had painted her lips alluringly black. "Can I.. kiss.. you?"
She answers him by pulling his head towards hers, and she finds his mouth alongside hers, and she pecks him gently at first. "Absolutely."
And in the enveloped darkness, he tastes her – the fine, delicate texture of her lips, nibbling on his, rubbing, and then she fully presses her mouth over his, and there, they each savour their shared breaths, and she lets out a throaty moan that is caught onto him,
it is the carnal desire that only ascends, more and more,
and she prods him with her tongue, two tongues who are set on attempting to taste one another, a petite dance, as he tries pushing back against her protrusion.
She feels him wheeze for air, and she pulls back away from him – mutual saliva drips down between their gap, just to let him recover.
And then another round of kissing, and this time, Renton is more assertive in this playful pas-de-deux, his hand running over her face, through her hair to the nape of her neck, and she shudders a bit, being touched there-
By accident, her teeth clench down on his tongue's tip, and he yelps in pain, retreating.
"Oh.. I'm sorry," she tells him.
"Aauouh," he goes, panting.
"Here.. I can help. Just stick your tongue out, and I'll make it feel better.."
So he does, stretching his tongue as far out as he can go – further than usual, when he'd blow raspberries at people.
She wraps her lips around his tip, the region where he'd taste sweetness from the sugary things, and merely sucks onto it, a popsicle. All her saliva leaks out from her lips, and he tastes it like it is his own, except it has a foreign composure that makes his mouth more wet in turn.
It does feel better, and he is aching for more, from her.
But she withdraws from him, her head resting on the pillow.
"I want.." he goes, and she nudges him by his chin.
"I'm tired. But tomorrow.. I promise, I'll show you the reason why a body is the best thing you can ever have.. bonne nuite, Renton."
"Bonne nuite.. LeBlanc."
But before he can ask her about it, her name, he hears her snoring, her awareness out of here – and so, all he can do is hold her by himself, like a pillow for his own body.
She's so warm..
And pretty soon, he too slides out of waking alertness.