Dita

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Brie and Dita sit on Dita's cramped balcony smoking cigarettes and drinking white wine with ice cubes out of tumblers just like old times. But unlike old times, the wine is more expensive and the tumblers have been updated to glass, tiny flecks of gold suspended in motion. In fact, much has changed at Dita's apartment. She's got a luxe new black velvet L-shaped couch, a whole new entertainment setup, and a giant black lacquered canopy bed dominating her bedroom, wrapped in enemy animal prints—cheetahs sleeping with zebras, tigers bedding down with giraffes. In the kitchen, a brand new set of Wüsthofs gleams beneath the fluorescent rods. It's the knives that set off the alarm bells. Only the recently married or the recently moneyed have knives like these.

Brie is studying the giant stone lion on the balcony. "How much did this cost?"

"I know," Dita says, ashing her cigarette into her money tree. "I went nuts at Z Gallerie. But it's like, why wait to have nice stuff? I work hard. I'd been sleeping on the same mattress since college." She takes a sultry drag. "Who says we have to wait until we get married to start living like adults?"

Brie crunches an ice cube. She has a point. Brie's mattress is old enough to vote beneath the memory foam topper Santa Claus brought last year. She winces at the image of her sitting in her parents' living room around the tree, her mother's favorite Barbara Streisand Christmas album yammering on as Brie sipped coffee and nibbled cookies in her lobster pajamas, having spent the night in her old room.

She checks her phone. Still nothing from Danny. Peyton's words hang like a raincloud above her. Peyton should know, she has Wüsthofs. Brie stubs out her cigarette, feeling a deep searing need for change. She really doesn't want to do this, but right now it feels like the only thing she can do, so she picks up the bottle and refills Dita's wine to the top. Dita drinks fast, never putting her glass down, and so it is in this fashion that Brie gets Dita shitfaced.

"I have something to tell you," Brie says once Dita's eyelids have lowered to half-mast. "Marian's threatening to fire me."

Dita fumbles with her lighter. "Yeah right. Salesgirl of the year." She succeeds in making fire and uses it to light another cigarette, the cherry flaring neon orange. A cone of smoke streams from Dita's lips and hangs in the air between them.

"I had sex with Benji the night of the Goalmates party," Brie says, pausing for Dita's laughter, but it doesn't come. "But she seems to think that you're sleeping with him."

Brie pauses for reaction, but Dita is quiet.

"Marian seems convinced that you and Benji are the ones who stole from her. She sent me here to copy every file from your computer. She told me if I didn't that she'd fire me."

Dita's face is blank.

Brie plucks a cigarette from the pack and lights it. "Questions? Comments?"

Dita stares at her cigarette. "Did he come onto you?"

Brie frowns at Dita. "Huh?"

"Benji," Dita says. "Did he come onto you or did you come onto him?"

Brie shakes her head. "I don't know, it doesn't matter. What matters is that she thinks you stole from her. Please tell me that's not true."

Dita sinks her face into her gold-flecked glass.

"I think the only reason she hasn't called the police is because she thinks Benji was helping you. You could go to jail for this!"

As if on cue, a siren comes screaming down the street, twirls of red and blue painting the landscaping. Dita traces the wailing down until it quiets, and then she turns back to Brie. "Was he super fucked up when it happened? Did he, like, tell you that he's into you or something?"

Brie falls back into her chair. "Deets, I'm really wanting you to focus on the part where you tell me you that the thought of stealing from work is ridiculous. Is there something going on between you and Benji?"

"You should go," Dita says, looking away.

Brie smiles in disbelief. "You can't be mad at me. He's Marian's husband! Dita, did you guys steal that stuff? Because if you did, she's going to pin it on you, not Benji. You realize that, don't you?"

Dita closes her eyes and shakes her head. "You don't know what the fuck you're talking about, Brie. Just stay out of it. She's messing with you."

"Nuh uh, I don't think so. I think she's totally serious, and she'll go after you even harder if she knows you're sleeping with her husband."

"I'm not," Dita moans, picking up her pack of cigarettes, but it's empty. "He's never even kissed me. Are you happy?" She stares out into the night, her eyes full of hurt. She shakes her head. "I must have really fucked over a man in a previous life, because boy I get fucked over by men in this life."

A group of drunken college kids pass on the sidewalk below, raucous and laughing, and the sound of their levity brings anger onto Dita's face. "You need to find a different job. You're smart, you can do better. Get the hell away from The Center before it implodes. Shit's going down."

"What kind of shit?"

Dita stands. "You don't know Marian. You don't know what she's into. She's got Benji locked up in some hell in Arizona while she gets deeper and deeper into her own shit. Benji wants out, he really does. He wants away from Marian and Monica, but it's one big giant clusterfuck and I'm warning you, Brie, you do not want to get involved."

Brie cuffs Dita's wrist and pulls her back to sitting. "Monica, your cousin?"

Dita shakes her head, but Brie can see that it is true. Monica is trouble. She's a criminal and a drug dealer and she moves in elevated circles.

"Look," Dita says. "I didn't steal shit from Marian and she knows it. I love you, Briebie, but just go home." Dita stands and goes into her bedroom and shuts the door, taking her tumbler with her. Brie sits there in the darkness, the ambient hum of the city like a swarm of angry bees.

Across the street, a light pops on, and a woman is in her kitchen putting something in the microwave. Brie watches this kindred wiping her small, rented counter while her popcorn bag inflates. The woman turns, responding to the unheard beep, and stabs the button to let the door fly. Industrial butter steam greasing her face, which is showing its age from the endless repetition of work, not work, day, not day, happy, not happy at all. The woman pours herself a glass of wine, and Brie's eyes go liquid, for this woman in her apartment, for Dita passed out in her makeup, but most of all for herself, who wishes above all else that it was obvious who she should call.

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