Max Goes on a Date

Max was holding the phone to his ear, listening intently, periodically nodding. Raina sighed. She made some noise in an effort to get his attention—yawning loudly, playing an airhorn sample she kept on her phone for just this purpose—but to no avail. Max was focused on his conversation with the Comptroller and never even looked her way.

Finally he was finished. “Of course, Comptroller,” he said, then hung up. Turning back to Raina with a faraway look in his eye, Max said “I have to go.”

Raina sighed again. “Max, I don’t like this Comptroller thing,” she said earnestly. “Who is this person? Why are you so obsessed about them?”

Max smiled at her. “I’m not obsessed,” he said, “but when the majority shareholder says jump, I ask how high. Right?” It was an old joke between them, but this time Raina didn’t even crack a smile.

“It just gives me the creeps,” she said, “I don’t like how servile you act whenever you see that name pop up on your phone.”

“Maybe I’m only pretending to be servile,” Max suggested hopefully. But Raina merely waved him away and turned back to her laptop.

“I’ll see you tomorrow at nine am,” she said, “have fun with your boss.”

Forty five minutes later, Max was staring thoughtfully out the window of a car as it limped through the midday traffic. He noted the way the scenery slowly became more opulent as they approached Beverly Park, where the Comptroller lived. To preserve her privacy he sent out a quick update to his shareholders “going dark for a personal meeting. BRB.” He hated going dark, because while it was within his rights it always caused a drop in his stock price.

The mixed panoply of Prisus, Porsche Cayennes, landscaping trucks, ancient station wagons, and mid-range sedans that had surrounded the car on the 405 had slowly given way to an undifferentiated parade of Jaguars, Bentleys, and even the ever present prowling Teslas, at which passersby’s still gawked and pointed. Max had only been to the Comptroller’s once before, and was looking forward to seeing the estate again. As his Lyft driver told him at length about her seven other part-time jobs, each of which allowed her to express her innate creativity without the old-fashioned restrictions represented by paid sick leave or health insurance, Max mentally prepared himself for the encounter that was about to occur. The Comptroller represented several conflicting but equally powerful desires, hopes, and fears within Max’s psyche, and he wasn’t always sure how—or whether—to separate those feelings and examine them individually. Also, the Comptroller liked to drink straight gin at meetings and Max hated gin, so there was that to psyche himself up for as well.

“I’ve only been out here one other time,” said the driver, breaking into Max’s reverie, “I drove Rod Stewart’s dog walker to work because her car broke down. Shitty gig if you ask me. Rod Stewart has a statue of himself in his own driveway. I actually think it might be a fountain.” Max nodded; that sounded right.

“It’s coming up here on the left,” he said, as the car neared a vast, gleaming gate, “if you pull up, the guy will let us in.”

“Jesus,” said the driver under her breath as she caught sight of an actual uniformed sentry, who was seated in a little booth next to the gate. He came out and peered into the window of the suspiciously middlebrow car. Max leaned forward and gave his name. With a curt nod, the sentry went back inside his post and the gate rolled soundlessly open. “Well if you’ve got it, I guess you should spend it,” the driver said, then added, “whose house is this anyway? Bono or something?”

Wincing again at the second Bono reference he’d been exposed to that day, Max said “no, it doesn’t belong to a celebrity. Just a regular rich person.” The Lyft driver was disappointed by this and fell into a gloomy silence as the car traversed a seemingly endless avenue that ran between rows of impeccably trimmed hedges.

The Comptroller answered the door herself. Max blinked in surprise—the other time he’d been here, a literal butler had answered the door. But no, here was the Comptroller in the flesh, opening her own door with her own perfectly manicured hand. As always, when in the presence of the beautiful woman who controlled the largest stake in all his finances, Max was filled with awe and a strange yet intense lust. So far, their interactions had always been professional, but was Max wrong to think he sensed a flirtatiousness underlying their discussions of share price and derivatives?

“Max, how good of you to come at such short notice,” the Comptroller said, smiling and opening the door wide so that he could walk into the echoing foyer.

“Comptroller,” he said by way of greeting, dipping his head in a nod that was just short of a bow. He always felt like clicking his heels together when he was in her presence. His mode of speech, too, became really odd when he was around her, like he was an officer in an old movie, reporting to his General.

“Lets go to my office,” she said, “there are some matters to discuss.” Her tone was unreadable; Max could not imagine what she wanted to talk about, and he also dreaded a disclosure he was going to have to make during this meeting. Mentally, he tried to bring his myriad surging emotions to heel but largely failed. Also, there was that fucking gin to prepare for.

“I’m going to have a gin. Would you like one?” She was standing by an elegant mid-century drink cart that occupied one corner of her opulent office. If you thought about it, it really was sort of absurd, like something out of “Mad Men” if Don Draper had been played by a gorgeous older woman clad in a profoundly expensive looking silk blouse. Drinking gin in the middle of the day, talking shop.

“Of course,” Max said unhappily.

Ice clinking in his gin, he followed the Comptroller to her enormous desk (she’d told him on his previous visit that it had belonged to Friedrich von Hayek and he kept forgetting to look up who that was) to look at some spreadsheets she wanted to discuss. The desk was bare save for an iPad, an ornate antique hourglass, and a human skull. There were no family photographs, no other personal touches. A small screen that was discreetly visible behind the skull displayed Max’s current share price in real time; when it was falling it turned red and blinked. It was red and blinking now.

“As you know, the price tends to drop when I go off the grid,” He said, knowing she knew this but also knowing he was expected to start the conversation, “And I appreciate you only request these in person meetings when it’s something important.” He paused, expecting her to reply, but she sat looking at him without saying anything. To fill the science he continued to catch her up on all that happened since they last spoke in person, though he knew she knew everything he had been up to, but she gamely followed along, asking questions at the appropriate time.

Throughout the discussion, Max kept wondering if the Comptroller was flirting with him. She was so hard to read! She was all business, which he respected deeply, and yet wasn’t there something behind her eyes when she said certain phrases or asked certain questions? “Maintain my hold,” “assert my dominance in the market,” “come at short notice.” It was hard for him to concentrate on the extremely detailed and insightful portfolio profile she was laying out. He forced his mind into sharpness; there was something he needed to tell her.

“Comptroller, I’m sorry to interrupt, but there’s something I need to tell you,” Max said. Her eyes widened in surprise, whether at his insubordination or at the revelation that there was information that had been hidden from her, he couldn’t tell. “Yes?” she said in a bland, neutral tone that turned his blood to ice. He soldiered on.

“Well, the fact is that…I’m almost out of money.” Having finally said it, he felt a wave of relief. Now the chips were on the table and the Comptroller would surely appreciate how forthcoming he had been. He went on: “It’s not as bad as it sounds,” he said, “it’s a cash flow problem. I have a deal in the works to flip some cutting edge streaming tech.” She raised an eyebrow and he flushed—“I haven’t put it before the shareholders yet because I’m still in due diligence process but I’ve been told the owner is looking for a quick sale,” he said, “I assure you I have no intention of going behind the shareholders’ backs. But once I even present the deal to the shareholders I’m expecting my share price will rise and I can sell some of my personal stake to raise money for the acquisition and cover operating costs. Later, when I sell the technology to to a firm in the valley, I’ll be flush enough to even consider some share buybacks.”

A charged silence filled the room as he finished his prepared speech. The Comptroller regarded him coolly for a few beats. When she spoke, it was with an abrupt change of subject: “Max, tell me more about this vote you’ve just put forth—convince me that asking this adult film actress out on a date is a good move for you.” Max flushed again. He was perpetually caught off guard by this woman who controlled so many aspects of his life. He swallowed.

“Comptroller, as you know, part of the reason I began this project had to do with feeling I needed an external force to shape aspects of my life. Before I became publicly traded, I….uh…I had no order in my life. No discipline.” At the word “discipline,” he swore he saw her eyes flash. Some wild energy swept between their bodies, he could feel it. His heart pounding, he decided to reveal more of himself to her than he ever had before. “When I put decisions affecting my life into the hands of other people, it makes me feel….” he struggled for the right word, “…it makes me feel safe, I guess. When I was watching the shoot earlier, I felt more excited than I’ve felt in a very long time. Um…..sexually, I mean, sure, but really it was watching Sophia restrain and discipline the guy that I found so compelling. I want to explore these ideas more, with her, uh, one-on-one. If she is interested, of course.”

The Comptroller smiled knowingly, as though none of this surprised her. “I see,” she said quietly, and—if he was not mistaken—with a note of pride in her voice. Pride for him? Was he somehow fulfilling the Comptroller’s plans for him, without realizing it? As was usually the case with her, Max was more confused and discomfited now, at the end of their meeting, than he had been beforehand. He felt sweaty. To regain some equanimity he added, “I also believe she has information about the owner of the technology I’m planning to acquire, so there’s that too.” It sounded a bit lame but the Comptroller nodded. As the majority shareholder, her vote was obviously decisive; if she wanted him to pursue Sophia, he would; if she wanted to prevent him from doing so, she could. Max realized he suddenly didn’t know which outcome he feared more.

“I’m going to vote ‘yes,’” she said decisively, “I think this is a potentially productive avenue for you to pursue.” Her tone indicated that the meeting was over. As they both rose from their seats, she added, “don’t think I’ve forgotten the fact that you’re close to bankrupt, Max. I better see this share price rise, and soon, or you’ll have a bank run on your hands.”

Back outside, Max heaved an enormous sigh of relief. Whatever other feelings the Comptroller provoked in him, the dominant one was always tension. He never knew where he stood with her. However, this time she’d loaned him her car and driver to take him home. Whether this indicated support (loaning of the car) or disapproval (someone else driving), though, was anyone’s guess.

The rounded edges of a Bugatti slid to a stop beside Max, and the chauffeur got out to open his door. Easing into the luxury of the passenger seat, Max felt his body relax. Once they were back on the 405 he turned his phone back on and checked his stock price. Barely down at all, and already rising now that he was back on the grid. He checked the vote on his date with Sophia and saw that he had a rare 99% shareholder approval. Every voting shareholder, including of course the Comptroller’s majority stake, had voted yes. There were a lot of abstentions, but that was to be expected with these short-term votes. On the “no” side there was only poor Max_Sucks_69, a troll who owned two shares and who always voted against the tide, leaving obscurely threatening comments on the discussion page to which mostly no one responded. As always, Max wondered who Max_Sucks_69 was, and whether they were someone he knew in real life. Sometimes at parties he amused himself by looking around the room and imagining all the craziest people it could be. What if it was Raina, pulling an elaborate prank, for example? That would be truly wild. But Max_Sucks_69 didn’t really bother him; he liked the idea of a troll weighing in on his personal decisions. It added an element of nihilistic unpredictability to the voting process that Max found compelling. Whenever he sold his own shares or when a prominent shareholder suddenly dumped their stake to exit the market he did experience a qualm; if Max_Sucks_69 were ever able to accumulate a ton of shares, things would get very interesting indeed. Still, whoever they were, they seemed uninterested in acquiring a bigger piece of Max—their two shares had never increased or decreased during the entire time they’d been part of the company.

With the decision approved, Max was free to contact Sophia. As he was working out what he planned to say, however, Raina called. “Oh God,” he said when he answered, “it was just as weird and intense as last time. You should see her desk, she’s got this human skull—” But Raina interrupted him.

“Max! Curtis just called. There’s something fishy with the Baphomet tech, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the phone. You know how he is. He wants to meet you in person tomorrow morning at nine. Apparently he’s got some dossier to show you.”

“Shit!” Max said. If the tech was bad, there went his major justification for asking Sophia out. Not to mention his major bulwark against bankruptcy. It would also make him look stupid in the Comptroller’s eyes. “Fuck!” he yelled for good measure.

“I know,” Raina said, “I’m really sorry, I thought it sounded cool too. We missed something.”

“Well, lets wait and see what Curtis has to tell us,” Max said, “who knows? He could be making it up to be dramatic.” But even as he said it, he knew it wouldn’t turn out to be true; Curtis was not someone who made stuff up, and if there were a less dramatic person in the world Max would eat his hat.

He could tell from her voice that Raina was thinking the same thing: “yeah,” she said doubtfully. “Well, I guess I’ll see you after—he wants to meet at that place with the vegan tempeh reubens.”

“Oh yeah,” Max said, “I forgot about that place. Okay, I’ll call you after. Have fun at Game Night.” On Thursdays Raina played Dungeons and Dragons with a group she’d joined in 2007. It was insanely funny to Max but she was dead serious about it. “It’s world-building,” she always said.

Max hung up and contemplated his next move. He still wanted to ask Sophia out (HAD to, he reminded himself—the decision had been voted on and was thus no longer in his power to rescind), and anyway, maybe she would still have info on the tech project that would prove useful. He decided he’d ask her to go to the concert with him tonight. Roger would understand, and anyway Roger preferred opera.

He opened up his email and began composing his proposal to Sophia. It was weird and old-fashioned, but Max remained firmly convinced that asking someone out via email was classy. It showed a level of seriousness and commitment that no text could convey, while by contrast it lacked the pushiness of a phone call or the potential awkwardness of an in-person conversation. He liked crafting overly ornate, formal emails even for the most informal of occasions.

Dear Sophia,

I so enjoyed meeting you earlier today at the shoot, and discussing the various topics that recur in in entrepreneurship discourses. Your dismissive critique of Clayton Christensen was both insightful and elegantly argued; I have always thought that Christensen was a jackass and I am only more convinced of this opinion having heard you articulate your own take on his “theory” (ha!) of disruptive innovation. I agree that it represents a gross misreading of Schumpeter.

I’m writing to ask if you would like to attend a concert of classical music with me tonight at Disney Hall. The program is a heavy one—all Mahler and Beethoven—but nonetheless one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I only managed to get ahold of tickets earlier today. I know it’s short notice, but if you are interested in this sort of thing, I’d love to take you. Maybe we could get drinks afterward? Regardless, I remain

Yours sincerely, Max

The car, meanwhile, was now crawling at a snail’s pace down the 101. In fact, they were just passing Disney Hall. Max contemplated the massive banners—each depicting one of the LA Philharmonic’s luminaries—that hung flapping on the walls of the vast musical complex, like the house banners of feudal lords of yore. He reflected again on the fact that Dudamel had cut his hair, trimming his once exuberant mane down to a sedate few inches: what did it signify? While Max generally approved of a more clean cut look on men, especially men of business—as Dudamel undoubtedly was, despite his commitment to the arts—there was something sad about the loss of that signature hairstyle. “I guess we’re all getting older,” he said to himself, then felt that that was a morbid thing to say out loud in the passenger seat of one of the most expensive automobiles ever made.

His email pinged. What?! It was Sophia, already responding. Efficient and timely, that one, he thought gladly to himself.


It was great meeting you too! It’s not every day I run into someone who can keep up with my blistering hatred of charlattans like Christensen. I also want to read that weird Friedman article you mentioned—do you have a pdf?

Regarding your emailing me to ask me out on an extremely traditional-sounding date (!!), I actually don’t know anything about classical music, and would love to go to the concert with you—perhaps you can teach me a thing or two [insert winking emoji]!. Where/when should we meet? And what do I wear?? Is it like Pretty Woman, do I need to go shopping for a ballgown and those long-ass white gloves? Please say yes.

Best Regards,


Yes! Max was so excited. That “Best Regards” at the end killed him; that was so funny. He could hardly believe his straightforward query had received so immediate and unequivocal a response. He wanted to text Raina to gloat about it (she disapproved of his email asking-out theory and also found his email “voice” incredibly irritating) but remembered that he had to cancel with Roger.

Max: Hey man, I have to cancel on you for the LvB/Mahler show I got a hot date instead

Roger: K Who with

Max: Her name’s Sophia & she’s a professional adult film actress & amateur political economist

Roger: Oh yeah, I saw that vote just now Sorry I didn’t vote, I can’t remember my login

Max: That’s ok Yeah she’s amazing, really funny

Roger: does she like the German Romantic symphonists big question lol

Max: Says she “doesn’t know anything about classical music”

Roger: uh oh

Max: lol

Roger: lol “good luck” ha ha ha i’m dying, what a bloodbath ‘twill be poor girl

Max: maybe not! you don’t know For your information some people do actually like beethoven

Roger: anyway I’m in town this whole week (Music and Sexuality conf at UCLA) so if you want to get together some other day I’m game LA Opera is doing Donizetti

Max: barf

Roger: lol have to go my plane is boarding peace dude

Max: wait, music and sexuality conference? what does it mean

But Roger was gone. Max texted Raina to find out what the hell kind of conference this was. Was it just for academic music nerds like Roger or was it open to the public? Max failed to see why someone who liked Donizetti should be considered an “expert” on “music” but he supposed there was no accounting for taste.

Candlelight gleamed off the robust glass of merlot Sophia was slowly spinning on the pristine tablecloth with her long, handsome fingers. Max was mesmerized. They’d long ago finished discussing the concert; Sophia hadn’t been that interested in the music, which she’d characterized as “a little much,” although she’d asked a lot of questions about the actual mechanics of performing a symphony. What role did the conductor play? Why don’t the musicians have their music memorized—people performing a play don’t look at scripts while they’re doing it! How does the audience know when to applaud? What material is the conductor’s baton made of? Her questions had become more and more fanciful as they’d drunk more and more wine. Do conductors ever fall off of the little box they stand on? Had a bird ever flown into the concert hall and perched on one of the music stands and the orchestra had to keep on playing anyway? Max had answered to the best of his ability, but he found himself wishing Roger were there; Roger knew all about this stuff and probably had better answers and more entertaining anecdotes. Whether arguing with afficionados like Roger or neophytes like Sophia, Max always found himself unable to advocate for this music he loved so much. Roger didn’t like the German symphonies for complicated reasons having to do with the authoritarianism they seemed to both require and celebrate, and the cultural chauvinism they’d been indelibly linked to by historical actors. Sophia didn’t like them because they seemed heavy and pretentious and sort of baffling. She’d characterized Beethoven as “the loud one” and Mahler as “the sad one” and that was the end of it for her. How could Max describe the complex alchemy of feelings this music engendered in him? Of course it was all about control, control and mastery, that was what was beautiful about it, hundreds of people coming together in discplined order to make something bigger than any of them could make on their own. Why was that a bad thing? “That’s just what the Nazis said,” Roger always said. Roger and his obsession with fascism! You couldn’t just bring up the Nazis in every argument, it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t Beethoven’s fault the Nazis had loved him so much. “Yes it was,” Roger would say. Max was always more annoyed with the Roger in his head than he was with real-life Roger, who was actually delightful.

Max wondered if the Comptroller liked symphonic music from the German nineteenth century. It had never come up. But he suspected she might. She was clearly someone who appreciated discipline and rigor. He found himself imagining sitting next to her in the hushed concert hall as the weird opening of Beethoven’s 9thSymphony slowly crept over them, cloaking them in an irridescent blanket of transcendent musical philosophy. He shivered. Then realized he’d been completely ignoring Sophia, who was telling him about something her “micro-fractionalized investment strategy.” Why was he thinking about the Comptroller during an enjoyable evening with this beautiful, smart, funny lady? He wrenched his attention back to her.

“So,” she said, “that intense guy Curtis who you were at the shoot with? He told me you’re a ‘publicly traded person.’ Is it rude if I ask you to explain what that means?”

“Not at all,” Max replied, “I like talking about it. It’s the biggest project of my life! Sometimes it creeps people out, though, so fair warning.” Sophia laughed. “You want to talk about a career that is hard to explain to people? Try being a highly paid porn actor” she said, then imperiously waved her hand and pronounced: “there shall be no judgment between us.”

“Okay,” said Max. “I sell shares of myself, and I use that capital to build companies, invest in companies, buy technology to sell to companies, or whatever ventures I deem likely to return a profit. Every year I pay a dividend to all the shareholders based on how much money I made. But the shareholders also get a say in every deal, and in fact, in almost every aspect of my life.”

Sophia was laughing. “Oh man,” she said, “I never heard of anything so bonkers. I love it.” She drank a sip of her wine then shook her head disbelievingly. “Wait—do you have to clear everything with the shareholders?” she asked, “for example, this date we’re on?”

“Actually yes,” said Max, and pulled out his phone. “I put it to a shareholder vote right after I left the shoot.” He showed her the shareholder voting interface, omitting to show her the comments section, in which Max_Sucks_69 had made some extremely inflammatory remarks.

“I don’t know whether to be horrified or flattered,” Sophia said, “and I must say it seems from the way you presented the vote that you mainly just wanted information about Omega, so maybe I ought to just be offended.”

“That’s largely to appease the shareholders,” Max said. “Every time I want to do something that requires their approval, I have to pitch it to them in a way that emphasizes the potential effect on share price. But they clearly like you, my share price is up 0.2% since we started the date.”

“Man, it’s like a literalization of all that stuff Wendy Brown writes about economization and governmentality.”

“Who’s Wendy Brown?” asked Max.

“I’ll loan her book to you,” said Sophia, “and maybe we can talk about Omega tomorrow over breakfast.”

The implication of this last statement hit Max like a ton of bricks. She was regarding him with an unambiguously flirtatious gaze. Her fingers twined around the stem of her wineglass, moving gently up and down as she idly twisted the glass. A lump arose in Max’s throat; he hadn’t had sex in months, and he was starting to feel like it was going to happen tonight. The discreet waiter had continued refilling their glasses without a word, as they’d sat here talking and laughing. It was late. Max was drunk, but not so drunk as to be numb to the sultry atmosphere, the rich and heady gloom of the cavernous dining hall of this Michelin-starred restaurant, the rhythmic sound of her wineglass moving across the thickly textured fabric of the tablecloth. He was suddenly intensely aroused, intensely aware of Sophia across from him, her lively eyes, her contagious smile. He realized that they had been silent for a long time, simply looking across the small, intimate table at one another. Without thinking about it, Max reached out and traced his fingers along the back of her non-wineglass-holding hand. The touch was electric; he saw by her widened eyes that she felt it too. She turned her hand over and allowed him to softly trace the lines of her palm. “I see adventure in your near future,” he whispered huskily. She smiled, and at that moment the waiter brought the check.

Sophia’s house was a clean, minimalist bungalow with clusters of carefully-tended plants and the appropriate amount of throw pillows on the couches and chairs — he always noted when someone was overcompensating for a lack of design sense with an overabundance of throw pillows. His eyes darted around. Was there a sex dungeon? He more than sort of hoped there was a sex dungeon.

“Hey.” She interrupted his small train of thought. “Are you looking for the kitchen? Do you need a glass of water?”

Max’s gaze settled on Sophia. Her face snapped him back into the moment. He shook his head. Her tongue moved under the bottom of her lip, not quite licking its surface. He focused hard on the lip, which at the moment was redder than it had been before. She bit it, less with the intent, it seemed, of turning him on, and more as a hanging question mark like, 'There’s a present here in front of you and I can’t figure out why you’re not unwrapping it.'

“You should take my clothes off,” she said.

Max moved toward her. His face went to her ear and he barely traced his tongue along its outer edge. She relaxed her pelvis into his and he felt himself growing hard, quicker than he thought the wine would let him. His fingers went up the back of her shirt. He pressed the tips into the notches of her spine and worked up and up until he got to her neck, which he kissed. With his other hand he was deftly unbuttoning the front. When he got to her bra, he moved his thumb over her nipple and pressed it slightly, like a doorbell. She caved into him more and breathed,

“I find the undressing moment the second most erotic thing about fucking.”

He asked, “What’s the first?”

“The walk up the stairs,” she said, “Nothing beats the walk up the stairs. The physical act of sex can’t dream itself into filling the space that’s created by the expansiveness of anticipation.”

Max laughed a little and he responded, “Well, if we can’t beat it, let’s at least try to match it.”

All at once he picked her up, his hands cradling her outstanding ass. She wrapped her legs gamely around his frame. He looked at her. Her eyes were closed. Max kissed her deeply but not hard and she responded with a moan, her tongue moving inside his mouth as he walked them both in the presumed direction of her bedroom.

He’d peeled off every scrap of clothing from her body by the time he put her on the bed. Sophia propped herself up on her elbows and said, “Now you.” As he undressed, she looked at him approvingly, noticing his broad freckled shoulders and extremely muscular arms whose size betrayed his otherwise trim frame. She let out a low, half-joking wolf whistle. He laughed. It wasn’t the first time this feature had been noticed. He extended his right elbow, making the tricep pop.

“Yeah. It’s a leftover from the Army. I drop and give myself 20 whenever I’m feeling stressed.”

Sophia fixed on his groin, which was conspicuously bulging now. “There are other techniques to blow off steam, you know.”

Max removed his pants and joined her on the bed. He interlaced his fingers through hers and held her hands over her head as he kissed her, moving his body on top of her as though he were fucking, even though there was that one crucial layer between them. She wrapped her legs around him again and moved with him until, with considerable force, she clenched her thighs and flipped him onto his back, reversing the position. She pinned his hands to the headboard and he looked up at her, ready for whatever. He felt himself straining against the fabric of his shorts as she reached over to the bedside drawer and retrieved a small, apothecary-looking bottle of oil. She rid him of the rest of his clothes and removed the top of the bottle, dripping a few glistening beads into her hands and warming them, and then lowered herself so that her face was close to where she was about to touch. With her long fingers she massaged him to a level of hardness that was almost unbearable and then... Stopped. It was perfectly excruciating. Max let out a long, semi-delighted, semi-pained groan and looked up at her. She was now perched by his side, her smooth legs tucked under her, surveying him with the kind of pleasure that only utter dominance can create. She dabbed a bit of oil into the palm of his left hand.

“I noticed you were a lefty when you signed the check at the restaurant. So I assume it’s the same here.” She was wrong, but he didn't correct her.

Immediately understanding what she meant, Max put his hand on himself and began moving. Sophia touched her breast, leaving a shimmer of oil on the surface of the skin and then slid her hand down so that she was touching herself too. As Max sped up so did Sophia. He watched as she went faster and faster, her back arched, her teeth lightly grinding into her lower lip, her nipples up. He focused on her delicate clavicle, her athletic stomach and, finally, the little tuft of hair that was barely visible from underneath her own working hand. Suddenly her eyes were open again. She made a sound as she came. Max’s mouth fell open as he was about to do the same and noticing this Sophia grinned and lowered her face down to him, swallowing him whole as he bucked his pelvis into her and finished. He shuddered so hard it was like a death rattle. She traced her fingers over her lips as he looked up at her, a tiny, delicious headache forming behind his eyes. Max muttered:

“That was…” He trailed off. He tried again, this time as a question. “That was?…”

Sophia finished his sentence for him. “That was what you get when I want to imagine you tomorrow, jacking off to one of my movies because you can’t fucking think of anything else.”

In the morning they woke up at the same time and smiled at each other. “You want to take a shower with me?” she asked playfully. She had a really decadent double-head shower that she said was one of the main reasons she’d bought this condo. Now that the sexual tension had been dissipated, they were easy with one another, like old friends. As they relaxed under the steamy water, Max decided to raise a subject that had been preoccupying him. He was nervous to ask her, because of the myriad ways the question could be interpreted. Would she think he was being rude, or that he was saying last night hadn’t been great? Would she judge him? Would he sound like an idiot?

“So,” he said, trying to sound casual, “I was sort of surprised that you didn’t, you know, handcuff me to the wall, or take me into some sort of dungeon. Like in Fifty Shades of Grey. Except, you know, with the roles reversed. Like I’d be that girl from The Social Network and you’d be the serial killer from ‘The Killing.’ Jesus, did you see that show? Gillian Anderson is truly a national treasure. Do you think it’s kind of fucked up how sexy the serial killer was in that? It seems kind of twisted. And like do you think we’re supposed to be thinking of that character when we watch him tie girls up and hit them with sticks in Fifty Shades? Which I actually haven’t seen, but intend to.” When Max was nervous, he rambled.

“I don’t think he hits girls with sticks in that movie, does he?” Sophia asked, “doesn’t he use, like, novelty velvet whips or something? That movie is very unrealistic. My pro domme friends were pissed about it. Also, he was in ‘The Fall’, ‘The Killing’ had Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos.”

“Uh, well I guess that pertains to my question,” Max said, “which is, I thought you were into that sort of thing, judging from the shoot…”

Sophia regarded him wisely and a little sadly, like she knew something about him that he himself did not know. “Max, I’m an actress. That was a movie. I was playing a character. The character isn’t who I really am, in real life. You understand that concept, right?”

Her question seemed pointed. “What do you mean?” Max asked.

“You know,” she said, “the whole ‘publicly traded person’ thing. It’s a character you play, right? It’s not possible for shareholders to actually control everything about your life. It’s an art project or something. Or it’s a political statement, about how hollow our lives would be if they were fully marketized. Right?”

Max was offended, even though he’d heard variations on this theme many times. Why did everyone see it this way? Why was it so hard to believe that this was who he really was—who he really wanted to be? Why was it so hard to believe that a person could truly love the free market and want to merge with it body and soul, as with a trusted lover? He took a deep breath and started thoughtfully soaping his armpits. “I get why you see it that way, why it looks that way,” he said, “but all I can say is, NO, it’s not a performance or an art project, and yes, ideally my shareholders do control everything in my life. This is who I really am.” Sophia looked surprised, but, true to her promise not to judge him, she simply said “okay.”

They finished their shower in companionable silence. As they were toweling off, she said “didn’t you want to know all my top secret info about Omega?” Amazingly, Max had completely forgotten about this. “Oh yeah!” he said, “thank you so much for reminding me!”

“I’m going to make coffee and then I’ll tell you what I know. Not that it’s that much.”

“I love coffee so much,” Max said sincerely. He always fell slightly in love with someone when they offered him coffee. Sophia pulled on some sweatpants and a t-shirt and left the bathroom. He heard her start banging around in the kitchen. He put on a thick terrycloth robe he found hanging on the back of the bathroom door, and brushed his teeth with his finger. He looked at himself in the mirror for awhile. He was feeling pretty good, all things considered. Sophia was really cool, and despite his realization that he’d been hoping for something a little more kinky during their night together, he hoped the shareholders would let him continue seeing her, if she wanted to.

As he left the bathroom, he could smell coffee. The smell of coffee in the morning always excited him almost more than anything else in the world. Fucking coffee! What couldn’t it do? “Coffee has made me the man I am,” he thought somewhat humorously to himself. He could tell it was good coffee, too, from the smell. Strong and dark as hell. He joined Sophia in the kitchen, and sat down at the table.

She came over and handed him an aesthetically pleasing asymmetrical mug full of coffee, and then sat across from him with her own cup, a traditional “I Hate Mondays” mug featuring Garfield.

“So, Omega Baphomet,” Max said, “what’s this guy’s deal?”

“I will tell you literally everything I know about him,” Sophia said, “here we go: One, ‘Omega Baphomet’ is not a hipster affectation but is his actual name; he had it legally changed at some point, but I don’t know what his name was before. Two, he runs some kind of clinic or retreat or rehab center that’s sort of hush-hush because it seems like it involves sex in some way. Sexual healing. I have heard this from several people, but no one has any details. Three, I’ve only met him a couple of times. He has parties all the time at his house, which is really more of an estate. It’s like a ranch, actually, out in Joshua Tree. He throws these huge parties and invites all kinds of people, people from all walks of life. I’ve been to a couple of those. They’re really fun, but they’re so packed, it’s not like you get much face time with him. At some point during the party he gets up—like there’s a proper stage, with a microphone—and makes a speech about ethics or energy or politics or something. It’s always kind of boilerplate—'excellence, diversity, progress, innovation, blah blah management buzzwords' but he’s weirdly charismatic and there’s something kind of compelling about him when he speaks. There’s tons of drugs at these parties, but it's semi-discreet, even though he’s supposedly all about clean living. And, the parties are pretty wild, like people having sex in bushes and kind of publicly in various rooms. Omega’s really into sexual healing, like I said. Sex as a path to enlightenment. He’s really weird but has never seemed dangerous or anything to me. I’ve never heard anything particularly creepy about him. I mean unless you think sexual healing rehab centers out in the desert are creepy, which they probably are.”

This was an amazing amount of information, Max thought. “This is an amazing amount of information,” he said, “but what about this livestreaming tech—the stuff Craig and Sujoy were screaming about today?”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said Sophia, “I wasn’t part of any of those conversations. They just cast me in the movie, that’s all I know.”

“Hmmmm….” Max said musingly.

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