Chapter 4: Shopping

Joan's weekend with Marc was a whirlwind of grappling in bed, learning to play Monsters of the Duel, posing for sketches, making messes in the kitchen, sending nudes to her other guys, and walking in the sun. He kept her on her toes, breathlessly yet wholly alive. She slept reluctantly but efficiently, her attention focused on the hardness of his body and the strength of his pulse.

After Joan finished her Sunday morning shower, she wore her towel into the bedroom. She looked at Marc as she dropped it, and he was drawn to her like a magnet. Their lips melded as his hands slid over her bare hips. Still holding her, Marc teased, "We're never gonna leave."

As inviting as the prospect sounded, Joan's stomach screamed for the breakfast with friends Marc had promised her. She drew away and dressed quickly, donning the cargo pants and rugged hiking boots she'd planned on for a comfortable journey home.

Marc eyed Joan. "You plan to show up in Seto Kaiba's bedroom like that?"

"Feces! I totally forgot about that. Can I use your washing machine?"

"No need for that. I'll buy you a dress after breakfast. I have one condition, though."


"Whatever you're wearing the next time I see you, I get to rip it off."

Joan cocked her head, going through her mental closet for an outfit she'd be willing to part with. "Deal." Joan stuffed her dirty clothes into her backpack and they headed out the door.

They walked several blocks arm-in-arm to a café famous for its apple fritters. Five hipsters stood in front of it. Marc walked up to them and introduced Joan to a vegan, a professional cosplayer, an aspiring author, a vlogger, and one of his art students. They were about Joan's age, twenty five, not Marc's forty four. Still, Joan felt awkward around so many strangers who already had close-knit ties between them. She put on a fake smile and pressed her business card into the aspiring author's hand but otherwise let Marc do the talking. Marc bragged about how he met Joan on OKCupid and then proceeded to recount some of his worst dates for comparison. Joan slipped into the role of arm candy, laughing at the right moments and only speaking if a question was directed at her.

Although breakfast was delicious, Joan felt relieved to get away from the table of strangers and stroll through the shopping district with Marc. "You're going to need something that makes you feel unstoppable tonight," Marc said.

Joan pressed her cheek to Marc's bicep. "You are my unstoppable."

"I'm not going to be there. I mean you'll need a dress that makes you feel like a sex goddess."

Several items in store windows caught Joan's eye, but Marc kept guiding her past the shops until they reached the most hoity-toity store in town sporting tuxedos and evening gowns in the window. They spotted the cocktail dress section and walked amongst the racks. Marc shook his head at everything until he pulled out a red halter with a neckline that plunged to the waist.

"Seriously?" Joan said. "I don't have a bra for that at home, much less with me."

"What kind of whore wears a bra?" Marc teased. "Come on, at least let me see you try it on."

Joan sighed and took it to the fitting room, earning a hard stare from the attendant on her way in. She pulled off her hiking boots and cargo pants, then her T-shirt and bra. She then carefully arranged the flimsy fabric of the dress, pulling it up and down in an endless dilemma between covering her nipples or her panties.

"Can I see?" Marc called.

"This isn't going to work. I'm too tall for it," Joan replied.

"Just let me see!"

Joan adjusted the fabric one more time and opened the door. She hunched her back until Marc said, "Stand up straight." She did so and her green polka dot panties popped into view. "OK, yeah, you have a point."

"What is the occasion, if I may ask," the attendant butted in.

"That's classified," Marc said with a saucy wink.

"I see. May I suggest the costume shop on Bargain Boulevard?"

"Oh isn't that cute?" Marc said to Joan. "He thinks he makes more in a month than you make in a day."

"Yeah sure, whatever," Joan said. She knew it was an exaggeration but decided not to contradict him. "I'm getting out of this thing." She shut the door.

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the store," the attendant said.

"No problem," Marc agreed. "If you like, I'll even tell my wife how rude you were to me and my girlfriend."

The attendant sneered, "I doubt that. Security!"

Just then, Roland walked by with a stack of black leather pants. His head reflexively turned at the call for security. "Hello Mr. Aurelio. What seems to be the trouble?"

"This gentleman doesn't want customers today," Marc said calmly.

Joan emerged from the fitting room. "Hello Ms. Saunders," Roland greeted.

"Hey, you don't work here!" the attendant shouted.

"Correct. I work for Seto Kaiba," Roland said.

"The fuck you do. Get out now!"

An actual security guard arrived and sized up the two hulking men plus the woman in boots as tough as his. "Gentlemen. Lady. We don't want any trouble here."

Roland flashed a black credit card. "I'm purchasing these. I'm on a tight schedule and don't have time to find them elsewhere."

"Right, uh . . ." the security guard said.

"And I'll escort this little troublemaker out," Marc said as he took Joan by the arm.

Bewildered, Joan went with Marc while Roland went to the checkout counter, the security guard watching their every move.

"It's because I'm brown," Marc said as soon as they got out. "The white virgin boys get jealous."

Joan relaxed. "Gee, all he had to do was ask nicely and I could have helped him with that problem."

"See? That's the attitude you need to keep a cool head in Seto's bed."

They linked hands and continued on to another store, this time looking through breezy summer dresses that allowed for ease of movement. Joan chose a white one with multicolored butterflies but Marc wasn't satisfied. Joan bought the dress for herself and they continued searching through other stores.

Marc spotted a blue one-sleeved dress with glitter embedded in the fabric and had Joan try it on. This time, the stretchy fabric allowed her to move confidently. "I have a bra that would work with this, but it's at home," Joan said.

"Bouncing boobs are more enticing," Marc assured.

"I guess. Look, it's too early for this kind of dress anyway. I'll wear the white one for now and change later."

Marc bought the blue dress and they settled into a noodle shop for lunch. Joan changed in the bathroom, keeping her boots.

While they ate, Marc texted his wife about the situation. "Have you told Michael you're not coming home tonight?"

"Guess I better do that now." Joan pulled out her phone and shot off the message quickly.

"Laura says that Seto is fucked in the head, so watch out," Marc relayed.

"How so?" Joan asked

"That shadow realm stuff Mokuba told her about is a trigger for him. Just be careful and get the fuck out of there if he does anything too freaky."

"OK, I won't let him tie me up, at least not tonight."

"Good ground rule. You know what else? I'm going to call you before I go to bed to make sure you're all right. Are you sleeping with him or do you need to crash on my couch?"

"Not sure yet."

Marc went back to texting. "Laura's offering to sleep on the couch."

"What? No."

"She says that if Seto is a real sicko, you're going to need me more than she will."

"I guess," Joan conceded.

Marc sighed as he read the next text silently. "I'm texting Mokuba."


"Just in case he knows anything we should know, childhood cruelty to animals or the like."

"I'm freaking out a little here," Joan admitted. "I'm having flashbacks to some horror movies my ex showed me."

"Laura's the one freaking out. It's probably because Seto threatened to fire her over the shadow realm stuff. You'll be fine. Too many people know you'll be with him for him to try anything nasty." Marc looked down at his phone again. "Mokuba says the prostitutes in Japan always go home safe . . . but sometimes Roland has to shove a morning after pill down their throats."

"Sheesh! Speaking of Roland, I don't know what time he's picking me up. He has my number but I don't have his."

"Yeah, and Laura wants me all to herself by four." Marc sunk back into his phone.

"I brought books for the train. I can just read," Joan said.

Marc continued poking at his phone. Then his finger froze and his eyes darted rapidly over the text.

"Hey, isn't my generation supposed to be the one obsessed with our phones?" Joan asked.

"Sorry. It's just that my boss is offering to take you to dinner."

Joan's jaw dropped. "I thought he was monogamous."

"Me too. This could get complicated. He . . . he says to negotiate your fees with Roland because Roland works for him too."

"Oh, right."

"He says he wants to experience more American culture, but he doesn't want to actually date an American girl because he plans to go back to Japan eventually. He just wants to pretend for a while."

"That makes things a lot less complicated," Joan said.

"It does." Marc sat back in his chair and stroked his hairless chin. "I guess this makes me your pimp then."

"Lol," Joan said.

"So that's a yes then?"

"Yes to dinner with Mokuba."

"Aw, for a second there I was hoping I could pimp you out to the waiter."

Joan swatted Marc's arm playfully.

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