“Diana! Thank you so much!” I remark with appreciation, my body is cocooned into a warm embrace. My hand reaches back to the loose bun secured by a yellow pencil, preventing my hair from spilling onto my shoulders. “You and Mark already do so much for me.”
“You mean the world to us, you know that.”
Aside from my own mother, I don’t think a single touch has ever made me feel as loved as a tight hug from my boss’s wife despite her recent weight loss. The scent of her Dolce & Gabbana perfume wafts into my nose as does the hint of vanilla in her short blond hair. Her weekly Wednesday morning session at the spa must have been quite soothing; her entire body is relaxed and at ease.
My open palms press against her back, but I don’t let go; I never let go first—especially with her constant mood swings. Following her lead, I release my grip when I feel her hold loosen.
“There’s somebody out there for you. I know there is. If only my Ace were here...” Bright blue eyes sparkle as her hand caresses my cheek softly.
I gaze and smile at the employer who feels more like family. “You keep talking about this son of yours who you think is perfect for me. Am I ever gonna meet him?” I tease.
A flash of sadness passes over her face then quickly smooths. “I’ll let you know when I see him. He’s a very busy man.” She winks, her thick eyelash extensions sticking together momentary. “Now you take this gift, go pamper yourself and enjoy your birthday!”
“I will. Thank you.” I nod subtly, accepting the gift I know will be outlandish and outrageously inappropriate. She and her husband mean well, lavishing me and others in the office with gifts for our birthdays, holidays and other special occasions, but it’s still awkward. I think in their minds, gifts equate with appreciation. At least this gift isn’t being given as an apology. Diana has been known to suddenly fly off the handle and scream when the copy machine is jammed or someone leaves the coffee creamer out on the counter too long. Thankfully, I’ve never been on the receiving end of her wrath, but I have witnessed it, and it isn’t pretty. A few words from her husband and the popping of a pill usually calm her within minutes.
Diana turns to leave, walks to the door then pauses with her hand on the door knob. “Door open or closed?”
I narrow my eyes and chuckle at her joke. “Open is fine,” I say, looking at the tall, wide clear glass framed by dark mahogany. “I don’t have anything to hide unlike some people around here.” Eradicating the image of her kneeling in front of her husband is something I struggle with on a constant basis. Just so I didn’t have to face them, I’d called out sick. Upon my return, I’d been summoned to their office and given a “gift” to forget what I saw while the carpenters installed a new solid door contrasting the rest of the ones in the office.
“That’s why we love you so much. You know Mark always wanted a daughter, but I only wanted one child. My sweet boy, Ace, is my world,” she replies with a grin as she steps through and rounds the corner towards the office she shares with her husband and business partner. “Babe, has Ace called today?” she asks in the distance. He replies with his rehearsed, usual answer, “Not yet, love. He’s due to call soon.”
With a click of the mouse, I open the screen and continue working on my project, wondering if today will be the day their son decides to call. I hate to see the disappointment on her face every time Mark says no.
“Hey,” Toni sings as she strides in, taking a seat in one of the two black leather chairs by the window and placing her feet on the coffee table.
I toss her a look and she quickly removes her boots with an apologetic smile. “Thank you,” I state dryly, annoyed that the magazine my work is featured in is now covered in drywall residue. While the expansion is project underway, several other departments are crammed into the main area.
“Soooo? What are we doing for your birthday? We should go get your hair done!”
“No, we shouldn’t.” I pull the pencil out and let my chestnut colored hair fall naturally around my shoulders. “My hair is just fine, thank you very much.”
This is a day I wish I could skip every year, but still...every three-hundred-sixty-five days, it comes around as a reminder.
“Come on! Seriously!! How are we celebrating your birthday?”
“We,” I point to myself with the pencil, “are going home, ordering a pizza and binge watching This Is Us.”
“Are you serious? You’re thirty-two years old and you’re finally free after five years.”
Slightly annoyed, I roll my eyes and toss my writing utensil on the desk. “You make it sound like I was incarcerated.”
Toni shrugs and raises her brow as her lips form a hard line. Mumbling beneath her breath, she says, “You kind of were. Today’s the beginning of a new year. Don’t let the past hold you back.”
Ignoring her comment, I remind her that I have to unpack since I moved out of the home I shared with my ex-husband after he violated his wedding vows and promised to change but didn’t.
“We both have to eat so let’s go for dinner and a few drinks. Then you can spend the rest of your birthday weekend unpacking and settling in.”
“You know I don’t really like to drink.”
“Oh God, Morgan! You’re so dramatic. A couple of drinks won’t kill anyone.”
I force a deep swallow and breathe, closing my eyes momentarily.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” Toni apologizes. “Just dinner then.”
After contemplating for a few minutes, I agree, sighing as I drag my fingers through my hair and readjust it to its former state.
“I’ll text you later. There’s this new Thai place downtown. Sounds really good.”
Finally left alone to work, I return to the task of brainstorming ideas. My hand searches blindly on my desk for a pencil. I chuckle quietly when I find it entangled in the messy bun between the layers of thick hair atop my head. Specs, notes and erasures cover the pages of a small spiral bound notebook.
“Knock, knock,” a deep voice calls from the doorway.
I look up to see Mark standing there with Diana on his heels.
Rising to my feet, I greet my employers with a smile. “Mark, I don’t think you can call me kiddo anymore. I am thirty-two you know.”
“If you live to a hundred, then you’d still be just a kid,” he retorts with a roguish grin.
“But what if I die tomorrow? Then I’m old.” I laugh. “And who the hell wants to live to a hundred especially if you need someone else to wipe your ass?!”
Mark joins in my amusement. “The point is you have a whole life ahead of you.” Adding a quick wink, he shouts loudly, “Carpe diem, baby!”
Diana eyes the envelope on my desk and motions to it with her chin. “Go enjoy it! Thanks for watching my babies on such short notice.”
“It’s my pleasure,” I lie, knowing I’ll have to double up on anti-histamine for the long weekend.
Noting the time, Mark says, “We’re heading out. My beautiful bride and I should be back late Tuesday night.”
“You guys have fun, but please be safe! Make sure you feed her! She’s too thin!” I laugh.
“Will do, kiddo.”
Halting her step, Diana spins around using her cane for support. “Oh Morgan, don’t forget to feed Romeo wet food in the morning and dry in the evening and the opposite for Juliet.”
I make a mental note to pick up Benadryl before I venture into their home to care for their cats twice a day.
“By the way, thanks again for letting me rent the pool house until I get back on my feet. I’ve already started looking for an apartment.”
“It’s the least we could do and you are welcome to stay as long as you’d like. We don’t get many visitors these days,” Diana mutters sadly as she leads her husband by the hand.
Following them, I stop at the door frame and lean on it, watching two of the loveliest people step into the elevator.
Mark’s eyes shine brightly when he raises their joined hands to his lips. “Come, moya nevesta.”
I sigh quietly at the tender gesture of affection accompanied by the foreign term of endearment. After all these years of marriage, Diana remains his bride.
Mark calls back, “Hey, I almost forgot. The cable company is sending someone out tomorrow afternoon so let him into the house.”
I curl my fist and give him a hearty, over-exaggerated “thumbs up” and shout, “Carpe diem!”
“We probably should’ve made a reservation, huh?” Toni replies to the hostess when the young woman dressed in all black offers a nine o’clock seating.
Hearing my stomach complain about its lack of sustenance and the slightly woozy feeling from the medication I’d taken prior to feeding the felines, I counter, “Let’s just go somewhere else.”
Tapping the app on her phone, Toni searches for a nearby restaurant with immediate seating.
“Look! There’s a Boston Market across the street.”
Toni gasps dramatically. “We are not going to Boston Market for your birthday!”
“Whose birthday are we celebrating anyway?” I tease while keeping up with her quick pace toward a different restaurant. Within minutes we are tucked away in the corner of a little bistro, seated at a small, dimly lit table for two.
“Who knew the accordion could be so romantic.” I laugh, making an observation about the French music floating through the speakers above us. “Achoo!” I sneeze three times in a row, scrunching my nose to ward off another series of loud and obnoxious disruptions while people enjoy a meal.
Toni purses her lips and rolls her eyes, mocking me. “You wouldn’t know romantic if it stood right in front of you and slapped you in the face.”
“Since when are you an expert about love?” I retort, not appreciating her assessment of my personal life.
A waiter greets us and delivers two glasses of ice water. Toni lifts the glass and sips slowly, looking at me over the rim. “I’ve fallen in love a few times.”
“You in love?” My voice rises questioningly. “I think that’s called lust.”
“Love...lust. What’s the difference?!”
Toni reaches into her bag to retrieve her phone when it chirps. She smiles at me, silently asking if I mind if she responds to the text message.
I shrug as my eyes stray from hers. Glancing around the small dining area, my attention lands on a dark gray suit jacket hanging off the back of a wooden chair similar to the one I’m seated in. My appreciation begins with the tufts of dark brown hair that kiss his black collared shirt and fall waywardly. Traveling further, I continue to examine the figure while he enjoys dinner with his female companion. His shoulders are broad, giving way to a wide back which narrows slightly as it descends.
I sigh, wondering about the view from where she sits. Maybe his face is hideous. Maybe he has crooked, yellow teeth. Maybe he has a tiny dick. Maybe the delicious scent of his cologne is masking some unseen flaw.
Grinning slightly, I doubt any of those things are true.
From my vantage point, I can only see his right hand. It’s clean, possibly even manicured, but big and strong.
“I know we haven’t even had dinner yet, but I can’t wait for dessert. Did you see they have crème brûlée?”
I hear Toni’s words, but I’m not listening. A different voice, a deep alluring one, has my full attention.
Leaning forward, he wills her to come closer, and I find myself angling my body to gain full access to his whispered voice. I can only decipher lick, fuck and a few other choice words because the rest of his seduction seems to be in French. I shift in my chair and cross my legs, thankful I opted for black pants instead of a dress.
Mesmerized by his quiet yet commanding voice, I watch him hypnotize her. Before sliding her hand beneath the white linen tablecloth, the woman slips her fingers into her mouth, coating them with moisture. Her smoky, dark eyes are focused solely on him and the words I desire to hear. Taking slow deep breaths and losing all control, the woman with long dark hair inhales, her bodacious cleavage rising and falling until she eventually grips the edge of the table and succumbs to his words. With her eyes now closed, her head lolls to the side as she shivers then sighs.
Oh. My. God!
“Morgan!” The sound of Toni’s hushed, yet forceful, voice calling my name interrupts my lustful interaction with the seductive stranger.
“What?” I turn my attention toward her and the impatient waiter who is standing there ready to take my dinner order. “Sorry.” I scan the open menu and pick the first thing I see. “I’ll have the Chicken Basquaise please.” And a double helping of whatever she just had for dessert.
“Are you feeling okay?”
I clear my throat. “I’m fine. Why?”
“Because you just made a really strange noise.”
My face flames red, and I pat my cheeks. “Must be the Benadryl I took earlier.”
“I have to watch Diana’s cats.” My wrinkled nose reveals my displeasure and as if on cue, I sneeze horrifically.
“Clearly it didn’t work. It sounds like your insides are coming out.”
I smirk and take a sip of water. “Thanks.”
“Doesn’t have anything to do with the couple over there, does it?” Toni tips her head suggestively.
I play dumb and question with lying eyes. “What couple?” Glancing over to where the couple sits, I notice his head is angled as if he were listening to our conversation.
Toni’s phone chirps again and she shakes her head. “This chick better calm down. I don’t do needy, especially after three dates.”
Casually, I peruse the restaurant, watching the other patrons, but find myself drawn back to where the woman in the short gold dress stands and excuses herself from the table while running her fingers through the dark waves at the nape of his neck.
After taking a quick swig of the tumbler filled with clear liquid, the mysterious man angles his head again and almost catches me staring. Thankfully, he looks away and pulls out his cell phone. With his elbows resting on the edge of the table, he waits for the call to connect.
“Hey. I’m in town for a few days.” He listens to the speaker on the other end of the line then replies, “Was going to try tomorrow.” The man drags a hand through his hair, appearing to be frustrated. “No,” he grits. “Unexpected trip...Just ten.” Again he falls silent while the other person speaks loudly, angrily. “Nice...that’s so nice of you to say. Thanks a lot.” The edge of his voice suggests condescension. After ending the call, his fingers grip his cell phone tightly then he sets it down on the linen tablecloth.
His voice, marred with quiet anger and tension, forms quiet complaints until Miss Smokey Eyes returns to the table and sits. Her lips are painted with a fresh coat of red. From the corner of my eye, I watch as she uncurls her small fist to reveal a thin strip of black material before sliding it across the table for two.
Her underwear? I thought that stuff only happens in the movies!
Choking on disbelief, I cough and reach for my glass of water, guzzle the liquid then spew out the contents when I realize I taste straight vodka.
“Toni! What the hell!”
She smiles brilliantly. “Relax! It’s your birthday. You’re not driving so have a little fun!”
Annoyed by her trickery, I huff and wipe my mouth with the black linen napkin. “Some kind of friend you are! Your mother would be real proud,” I laugh, looking back to my left just in time to see the happy couple vacate the table and make their exit. She giggles when he squeezes her curvy ass.
“Maybe just one drink.”
Toni raises a victorious fist into the air. “Perfect, I know just the place.”
“Here, Juliet! O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?!” I chuckle, slurring my greeting after opening the back door to the Darling residence. I set the keys on the island and proceed to look for the two extremely overweight cats to give them their nightly treat. I freeze and my come hither-kissing sounds cease when, in the dark, a cry which resembles a hyena startles me. Between my puffy, irritated eyes and my slightly inebriated state, I search blindly along the wall for the light, but I sneeze and push a door open instead. Only the faint glow of a candle illuminates the room, displaying a discarded gray jacket and a gold dress.
My eyes widen in horror and I gasp then scream in fear and surprise.
A woman with dark-hair arches her naked back and screams in ecstasy while the man beneath her curses in pleasure before turning to anger.
A continuous chorus of screams laced with vulgarities can be heard throughout the main level of the house as I pull the door shut and make a beeline for the door.
Holy shit! That was definitely not Romeo or Juliet.