Melissa lay on one of the patio lounge chairs, enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon sun on her naked body. Erik was inside, dealing with the two private equity firms that co-owned the failing company he had just visited. They had been pestering him all day, which she found annoying for a Sunday.
Stretching, she tried to work out the tightness in her muscles from yesterday’s tournament. She was feeling more at peace, after a long talk with Erik when they got back last night. She had been relieved to discover that he had also been somewhat unsettled by the Tournament’s themes of violence and death. Erik told her that he had been so busy with Sunstone that he hadn’t been to a Tournament at the club for over a year. The last tournament he had seen was much more of a test of skill, with far fewer gladiatorial trappings. Some of his friends had told him that the club’s facilities had been upgraded in the past year and the matches were now much better. Erik had only realized after last night’s Tournament had started that their idea of ‘better’ was quite different from his own. He apologized to Melissa for not checking out a more recent tournament before signing her up to compete.
After his apology, she felt contrite about her fears that he enjoyed the simulated violence the same way as Deborah. Melissa apologized for having doubting him. Erik had laughed, waving away her apology, while reminding her that it was his fetish for Lara Croft that had led to last night’s tournament.
Over breakfast that morning, they revisited their conversation and decided to treat the Gladiatorial Tournament the same way as the Pony Play that they had tried at the beginning of the summer – an interesting experience, but not something to do again, at least not in the same way.
Melissa felt somewhat bittersweet, however, about not going back. As much as she had disliked the gladiatorial trappings, she had really enjoyed getting to know Kelley, and even Lin. She had also been proud of achieving a new skill, and been surprised that she had done so well. She felt grateful to Polly and Mike too, for the insights they had given her into ancient combat, which she was sure would be helpful as she went on in Archeology.
Unfortunately, the yuck factor she felt about how the audience responded to the simulated violence with such rabid excitement had bothered her at a very deep level. She found it hard to imagine participating in another Tournament at the club. It reassured her to know that Erik had similar misgivings.
This morning, she had enough distance from the intensity of the event to realize that she felt sorry for Erik. He had really been looking forward to having his ‘action girl – Lara Croft fantasy’ fulfilled, and it was a gift she really wanted to give him, but it seemed that competing in further Tournaments at the club wasn’t a great option for either of them.
Deborah, on the other hand, was eager to go back to the club with Michael. She had left last night, speculating about where she could acquire her own gladiatrix to enter in the competition. Melissa had just shaken her head, telling herself to be happy that her misadventure had helped a friend discover a new kink.
Melissa looked around, wondering what was taking Erik so long. She was just swinging her legs over the side of the lounger to get up and look for him when he slid open the patio door to come out.
Her excitement at seeing him was immediately tempered by the grim look on his face. He walked over, eyes downcast, as though lost in thought. When he reached her, he sat on the side of a lounger across from her. His face looked pale against the black polo shirt he was wearing.
Melissa asked, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Glanox. They want me right away.”
“I thought you said the owners would negotiate over terms for a couple of months…”
He shrugged, “They accepted all my terms. I told them I had other commitments and couldn’t start until September. They offered a huge starting bonus, but only if I began right away.”
“Enough to buy Sunstone from the current owners, no questions asked.”
“Wow,” Melissa said hollowly.
“If I do this, I’m going to be insanely busy. Glanox is across the country. They’re in terrible shape. Sunstone’s in better shape now-a-days, but I still need to be involved – more than I’d like.”
Melissa stayed silent, in shock. Erik continued, “I won’t be able to get back here very often, maybe one weekend a month. When I’m out there at Glanox, I’m going to need to be completely focused on saving their business… I don’t know how I’m going to fit in Sunstone, let alone anything personal.”
“So… you’re going?”
“It’s… what I do. I might be able to save Glanox. I definitely can save Sunstone.”
“What about us?”
“You can stay here…”
“Without you? No…” Tears began streaming down Melissa’s cheeks. “I guess the summer is over… huh?”
“Yeah.” He reached out to wipe her tears and take her hands. “I’ll be back at some point. The Glanox thing won’t last forever.”
“I… this was just a summer fantasy. I can’t live my real life like this… It’s been… amazing, but it’s not real – not real for me.”
“It can be. I love you.”
“I love you too, but we’ve only known each other, what, a month or so? Who knows, maybe that love is part of our summer fantasy. When the summer is gone, it’ll be gone too.”
Erik bowed his head in pain. A tear fell, splattering on the flagstones below.
* * *
Melissa shielded her eyes from the sun, watching the Range Rover disappear down the drive. She turned to go back in the house one last time. Her suitcase was where she had left it when she first arrived, still mostly packed. She only needed to put in a few things that she had taken out when she first arrived, then leave.
Erik had told her she could take anything she wanted, even the Aston Martin. She had said no. She didn’t want anything. She wanted to leave this world behind when she went back to her apartment.
Walking into the guest room, she went in the closet and pulled her suitcase out, then carried it over to the bed to open it up. All her old clothes were in there, untouched. Her shoes were stuffed in one corner – all flats and low heels, except for her one sexy pair of four-inch stiletto black pumps.
She reached down to take off her favorite six-inch pastel tapestry pumps. Then she slid off her skinny jeans and took off the white chiffon silk blouse she had worn for saying goodbye. She folded the clothes on the bed for Abigail to put away.
Naked, she dug a pair of jeans out of her suitcase. When she put them on, they were loose. Hunting around for a top, she decided on a black t-shirt, to match her mood. Underneath the t-shirt was a bra. She stared at it a long while, knowing the summer was over, and it was time to start wearing underwear once more.
Reaching for the bra, she remembered that she hadn’t put on any panties before she had pulled on her jeans.
After a moment, she sank to the floor, weeping.