Skin Deep
by K. Bond

The theatre ceiling looked like an inverted pottery bowl painted a sapphire blue with twinkling lights to mimic the night sky. The mixed smell of perfumes and colognes blended into a hypnotically calming scent. Men in dark suits and women in black cocktail dresses bustled and chatted with excitement.

Like the other men, Evan wore a dark suit. As a lawyer, his wardrobe consisted of almost nothing else. His client, a neurologist who lived in lab coats, settled on a white shirt with black piping and a bolo tie for his evening attire.

The usher lead the two to their theatre seats. Evan lagged behind, a little embarrassed by his client’s dress and disheartened he was not spending his birthday in his boxers watching Star Wars for the umpteenth time with his Golden Retriever. He finally took his seat behind a woman, dressed in red from head to toe.

She looked like a rose in a garden of black delilahs. Her wide brimmed hat obstructed Evan’s view, but that did not bother him. He had seen the musical many times with other clients his law firm insisted he wine and dine.

“Who is playing Eva tonight? Do you know?” he asked Dr. Stein only to make polite conversation. He truly took no interest in any actors, particularly since he would be unable to see the performance due to the large red hat.

Dr. Stein seemed immensely concerned with who would be performing. He fumbled around for the playbill, which he managed to lose in the few minutes the two had been seated. Evan watched as Dr. Stein grew increasingly frustrated with himself. He wondered how this man could possibly be a neurologist. When the lights dimmed, he sighed in relief. A hush fell across the theatre. The burgundy curtains opened.

As the musical captivated the crowd, Evan stared at the hat. He studied the red satin band around it. He decided it was designer quality and guessed the woman wearing it had money at her disposal. The woman’s ivory shoulders were barely visible over the backs of the uncomfortable theatre seats, but he surmised she was quite stunning and found himself fascinated by her.

He watched her swanlike neck crease as she followed the actors across the stage. Cascades of red feathers billowing from the hat blocked Evan’s view of her face, which intrigued him even more. He waited impatiently for intermission, when the theatre’s lights would brighten so he could steal a glance at her face. Perhaps he would tap on her shoulder and say something clever.

As the curtains closed for intermission, Dr. Stein asked, “Could ya show me where the restrooms are? I could get lost in this ‘ere place.”

Evan screamed inside. He bitterly escorted Dr. Stein to the restroom and waited outside the mahogany door. He stared at the elaborate design on the tiled floor until he heard a champagne glass shatter in the distance.

When he looked up, he saw her. The woman dressed in red wore a strappy satin dress with matching apple red lips. Her perfectly symmetrical, almost unnaturally symmetrical, face was framed by wisps of blond hair and the hat he knew all too well.

“Don’t look at me; I didn’t break the glass,” she said.

Evan realized he was staring at her. “Are you here alone?” He blushed at his own forthrightness.

“Yes, I normally spend a great deal of time with people. For my birthday, I thought I would enjoy some time alone.” The woman caressed her wine glass and looked into the distance.

“Today is your birthday?” Evan asked. After she nodded, Evan offered, “Today is my birthday too.” He mulled over the coincidence while she moved past it.

“I’m Tara.” She outstretched her hand to shake.

As he took her hand, he felt her skin. It seemed oddly soft, yet inelastic – like his grandmother’s hands before she passed. “Evan. Nice to meet you.”

Just then, Dr. Stein emerged from the restroom, still zipping his zipper. He gravitated to Evan’s side like a child to his mother.

“This is Dr. Stein. He is a renowned neurologist and client of the law firm where I work as an attorney.” Evan never failed to mention his profession when a woman was involved. He did not use his profession as a tool to impress women, but it boosted his own sense of self worth and gave him confidence to pursue the females he might have otherwise considered out of his league.

The woman outstretched her hand to Dr. Stein. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Stein. I am Tara Bolling of Bolling & Associates, where I also work as an attorney.” With a high degree of poise, her hand disappeared into a beaded clutch and withdrew two business cards: one for Dr. Stein, the other for Evan.

Evan read and reread the card. He could not believe his eyes. In his mind, he envisioned himself rolling a single die that repeatedly landed on “eight.” He concluded it was fate. They were meant for something. Partnering in marriage. Partnering a law firm. Initiating a coup d’état. Attacking aliens. Something.

He had to evade this client and be alone with her to find out what destiny had in store. Placing a hand on the client’s shoulder, he said, “It’s a nice evening. I think I’ll walk to my loft from here.”

He caught Tara’s eyes in a momentary glance – a glance pregnant with suggestion. Then, he turned his attention back to the neurologist. “Dr. Stein, the limo driver will be happy to take you home.”

Tara said to the doctor, “A limousine? Do you mind if I ride with you?”

Evan shoved his hands into his pockets as Tara grabbed Dr. Stein’s arm and disappeared into the crowd. During his long and lonely walk home, he imagined Dr. Stein playing with Tara’s silky straps in the spacious backseat.

*****

Evan sat at his desk Monday morning, staring out the window, when the phone rang.

The voice said, “I am calling on behalf of Dr. Stein. He appreciated your service but has selected a new lawyer to represent him. He wishes you all of the best.”

Evan stood up from his chair and took Tara’s card from his wallet. Looking at the card, he responded, “I am sorry to hear that. Give him my best regards.”

He hung up the phone and grabbed his briefcase. At the elevator doors, he impatiently punched the button until they opened. The elevator descended to the lobby.

He jumped in a taxi and read the address to the driver. As they crossed town, he wondered which he should concentrate on first: wooing or berating Tara.

Before he had come to a decision, the driver stopped at a pretentious looking office with too many fountains and ferns. Evan marched in the building demanding to see Tara Bolling.

The mousy brunette stared at him through bottle cap glasses with familiar eyes. “I am Tara Bolling.”

“No, you’re not! I met her; she’s a tall blond that stole my client.”

She said, “Evan, good to see you again. Oh yes, the blond one. I only wear that skin on my birthday.” Tara pressed a code, which opened two automated doors revealing hundreds of human and animal skins. The lifeless skin of the blond he had met at the theatre was draped on a swivel chair, creased and naked.

Evan walked inside with the brunette version of Tara at his heels. He decided that Dr. Stein was a low priority and turned to search her eyes. “We were made for each other, you know?”

“I know,” Tara said, pressing a button that shut the doors. She reached in her desk and withdrew a knife. “You have great skin.”