"Happy birthday," Chad said, after the door closed behind us.
Three hours later, we left. Sort of. I really don't remember. What happened after that was a bit of a blur, though I do know that it involved Iris and Veronica- how Chad got those two in the same room is really beyond me, since anyone who knows them knows this is like seeing hell frozen over, with transvestite car-hops skating over the ice delivering Manhattans to the damned. There is no love lost between these two after serving the same clientele for so many years.
What I do remember is that when I got off the elevator yesterday morning, I smelled something familiar in the hallway as I made my way toward my apartment. A perfume I recognized. The door was unlocked, and when I walked in I found Penelope, Isabella, and the Femme Fatale all seated on the floor around my coffee table. In the center was a vase full of yellow tulips and a small box, neatly gift-wrapped next to it. Beside it were two bottles of Woodford, one half-empty, and each of them had a glass in front of them.
Isabella poured me a drink- my customary double, dropped a single ice cube into it, and placed it gently in my hand. Her fingers caressed mine as she let go.
"Just this once,"she said,"we're all here. Because it's your birthday."
"There's a caveat, however," Penelope added.
"Really? And what is that?" I asked, still stunned to see all of them in my apartment, though Isabella has a key.
I looked at each of them in turn. Penelope first, as I've known her the longest, then Isabella, since obviously she was the executioner, and finally the Femme, whose presence here was the least likely but certainly the most appropriate in such a bizarre situation. I felt like I had fallen into a real-life version of A Serbian Film and that at any moment a huge goon was going to come out the bathroom, bludgeon me, and chain me face-down to a bed.
"No more Beast," said the Femme Fatale. "It's done. Over. No more writing about any of this."
I took a sip of the Woodford. Forty days on the wagon down the drain in a single sip. I can't tell you how good it tasted. I took another, and drained the glass.
The Femme rose and put her hand on my chest. Isabella got up behind her. Penelope remained on the floor, eyeing the three of us warily.
"Is it a deal?" asked Isabella.
I didn't say anything, thinking about what all of this really meant. And what it was going to mean. And what was going to happen after I answered, either way. Would they all get up and leave if I said "no"? What exactly were they planning if I said "yes"?
"You heard her," Penelope said quietly, with a tone she always uses when she sees no ambiguity in front of her.
I looked at each of them one at a time, only somewhat conscious of what was actually happening, knowing I still had a few hours to go before I was going to fully shake off the adventure with Chad.
The three of them. Or A Beast. It actually wasn't a hard decision. After three years, all of this has exhausted me. What none of them knew was that I was already there. Someone, or something, just needed to give me a push.
"Yeah, it's a deal," I replied, reaching out a shaking hand to Penelope.
And with that, I squared off against A Beast in a Jungle. It leaped at me and I surrendered to it, letting it maw me with its six well-manicured hands.
Thank you for reading this for the past three years. It's been an interesting journey and I appreciate everyone who's enjoyed it and encouraged me. But a deal is a deal.
And this one is certainly worth it.