Jazmyn Young and her best friend Tavia sat in a worn booth at Aunt Bea’s Diner, the best restaurant in Mallory, waiting on the five orders of food. The place was a mid-size mom-n-pop joint and Jazmyn was sure the cook was probably a sister to Moses, the biblical figure. Wilma was nice and always had a quick smile and something good to say, but she looked like an Egyptian mummy, wrinkled and bent as she went about running the grill better than those half her age.
Tavia came back and sat in the booth facing Jazmyn. “So, what do you think about our dear Jayda and her new catch, Drake? Is that not the weirdest coupling you can imagine?” Tavia rolled her eyes and laughed.
“Weird? I’d say that’s about right. I never thought for a second that Jayda would go for someone who is so obviously an alpha male type. I just don’t see Drake playing submissive for her at all.” Jazmyn turned to watch Wilma working the grill, fascinated by the ancient woman’s dexterity and speed with the spatulas, lids, seasonings, bottles, and all the other accessories of her trade. The woman seemed as if she had been born over a flat-top with spatulas in her hands.
Tavia giggled. “Wonder if Jayda will retire her dominatrix outfit and her whip now?”
Jazmyn, caught off guard by the comment, laughed aloud and clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. “That’s the sixty-four-million-dollar question right there. I don’t see that happening, either. She likes being in control too much.”
“Drake doesn’t seem like the type that will share her, though. And we both know he won’t be submissive. That man would agree to be tied up about like I’d agree to be shot out of a cannon.” Tavia turned on her cell and began scrolling.
“Mm. Then I guess there’ll be trouble in paradise before long.” Jazmyn scanned the diner. Two retirement-age couples sat at tables on the other side of the dining area. A gum-chewing waitress, who might be seventeen or eighteen, idled up and down the bar, straightening the condiments and humming the tune to some forgettable country song.
Wilma flipped two burgers over and closer to the right side of the flat-top, added cheese to them, and slapped metal domes over them. The burger buns and sides were sitting in to-go containers on the counter by the stove. Jazmyn didn’t remember even seeing the woman put the sides in the containers.
“I think everything and everybody in this place is moving in slow motion except for Wilma. Damn, that woman is fast.” Jazmyn shook her head and checked the time again.
Anywhere else, she would expect to sit and wait for five orders of food for at least a half-hour. Not here, though. Not at Aunt Bea’s. She and Tavia had given the orders and had been waiting only eighteen minutes when Wilma rang the little bell to let Sandy, the waitress, know the food was finished.
Sandy strolled to the counter and plucked the ticket from the Styrofoam container on top. Holding it between her thumb and forefinger, chomping on that stupid wad of gum, she lazily poked at keys on the register.
“So, y’all had two cheeseburger meals, a chef salad with soup of the day, and two seared chicken breast meals—two sides and two rolls—and five large sweet teas. That sound right?” She eyed first Jazmyn and then Tavia with disinterest as she waggled the green ticket over the register, waiting for an answer.
Jazmyn suddenly wanted to smack that girl; she was the exact opposite of Wilma and stood in such stark contrast to the cook that it was annoying.
Forcing a tight smile, Jazmyn nodded. “Yep. That sounds right.”
Tavia nudged Jazmyn’s ankle with the toe of her shoe and grinned. Jazmyn rolled her eyes at Tavia and turned back to Sandy.
“All right, girls, looks like that’ll be forty-five dollars even. Unless you wanna add in a tip for me or Wilma, that is.” She grinned and tilted her head, batting her eyelashes at Jazmyn.
A sarcastic laugh escaped Jazmyn before she could stop it. “I’m sorry, Sandy, I just want to pay and go. Maybe next time, though.” She handed the girl two twenties and a ten.
Tavia interjected, “Yeah, next time when you do more than chew gum loudly at us. You really shouldn’t do that on your job, you know.” Tavia wasn’t being mean or rude. She informed Sandy of this in a nice, older sister kind of way and it always amazed Jazmyn how people took to Tavia’s insulting remarks.
Sandy’s eyes grew wide—the most reaction Jazmyn had seen out of the girl the whole time she’d been coming to Bea’s. “Well, Henry and Mae have never said anything to me about it.” She spat the gum into a small trashcan at her feet.
Tavia smiled. “Maybe they haven’t seen you doing that while you’re waiting on people.” Tavia scrunched up her face and shrugged.
“Is it really that bad noticeable?” Sandy pushed the drink holders and the to-go containers toward them.
Tavia nodded. “Yeah, it kinda is, Sandy. Anyway, you have a good day, now.” Tavia grabbed two containers and a set of drinks and then headed out the door.
Looking slightly wounded and slightly confused, Sandy looked to Jazmyn.
Jazmyn took a ten from her pocket and stepped to the door that separated the kitchen from the hallway. “Wilma? Here you go, girl. I love your food, woman. You keep us coming back here.”
Wilma stepped to the doorway and smiled at Jazmyn, taking the ten from her. “That’s what I’m here for—to keep customers coming back week after week.” She slid the bill into her pocket under her apron and smiled wider, a twinkle in her eyes. “I like you repeat offenders, Jazzy. I like your club, too.” She pointed at Jazmyn with one crooked finger and laughed as she went back to the stove.
Jazmyn, shocked, asked, “You came to the Hideaway?”
“Yup. Been there twice now. It’s bright, loud, chic, purty, and wow what a crowd of good-looking guys y’all get in there on the weekends.” She waved at Jazmyn and disappeared around the corner to the coolers.
Carefully maneuvering the stacked Styro boxes, Jazmyn placed them in the back floorboard of her car and then slid under the steering wheel, laughing at the idea of Wilma kicking up her heels at the Hideaway.
Tavia, still scrolling through her phone, asked, “What’s so funny? Share. I could use a laugh, too, you know.” She put the phone under her thigh and eyed Jazmyn as she drove out of the parking lot and onto the winding road that led to the Hideaway.
“Wilma said she really liked the Hideaway.” Jazmyn burst out laughing again.
“What? She’s been there?” Tavia asked in disbelief.
“Apparently she’s been there twice.” Jazmyn wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and tried to stop laughing.
“Wow! Now that I would never have guessed.”
Jazmyn shook her head. “Me neither.”
They arrived at the Hideaway and carried the food inside. Jayda, Madison, and Pepper were in the office lounge with the television on, the volume low, watching an old horror movie. They were all piled up on the seven-foot long sectional couch.
While they ate and watched the old movie, that was more comedy than horror in present time, Jayda kept checking her phone and texting someone. Jazmyn figured it was Drake.
“Your dragon texting you to keep up with your whereabouts and the company you’re keeping before opening hours?” Jazmyn couldn’t keep the hint of sarcasm from her voice. Of all her friends, she would have thought Jayda would be the last one to let a man keep a leash on her—even if it was just an electronic leash such as a cell phone.
Jayda looked up at Jazmyn and then around to the others, who were all watching the movie still. “No, he’s not checking up on me. He’s just chatting.” She put the phone down beside her and said, “Actually, he wanted to know where you were at the moment.”
“Me? Why would he want to know where I am any time?” Jazmyn scoffed and put the last bite of chicken in her mouth as she turned back to the movie. She suddenly didn’t want to discuss Drake anymore.
“I’m not sure. He just wants to make sure that you’re here, I guess. He’s sending Gage Swift down with an electrical wire we need for those flickering lights upstairs.” Jayda raised her eyebrows at Jazmyn.
“What? So, he’s sending Gage with wire. What’s that got to do with me?” She knew what she’d like it to have to do with her. Gage Swift was about as hot as the running gears of hell itself. She wouldn’t mind letting him burn her either. A small smile pulled at her mouth and she couldn’t make eye contact with Jayda.
“Uh-huh. Well, my guess is that Mr. Swift wants your company while he’s here working on those lights. Maybe the man has the hots for you, Jazzy.” Jayda winked and the others intoned with murmurs and catcalls.
Jazmyn giggled. “Well, he can have the hots for me if he wants to; that doesn’t mean I return the feeling.” She stood to throw away her Styrofoam box.
Pepper said, “Sure thing, Jazzy. I saw how you looked him up and down the last time he was here. You looked like a starving dog eyeing a T-bone steak.”
They all laughed. Jazmyn shot Pepper a hateful look and dropped her trash in the can.
“Yeah and who among us hasn’t looked at those guys that way at least once?” She sat in the over-sized chair again, pulling her feet up into the seat with her. “I have to admit that Gage Swift is pretty hot, indeed.”
Madison said, “Hear, hear!” She pounded her hand against her thigh, nodding in agreement. “Why don’t you get you some of that, then?”
“That hasn’t offered itself to me yet, that’s the main reason why.” Jazmyn turned to the movie, her mind on Gage and not the movie at all.
Jayda slid from the couch and stood. She leaned close to Jazmyn’s ear and in a low voice, she said, “If he’s even half as educated in sex as Drake is, you are in for the treat of your life.” Grinning, she patted Jazmyn’s shoulder and walked across the room.
Jazmyn couldn’t get Gage out of her head after that comment. “If I did get some of that, I wouldn’t tell any of you about it.”
Pepper said, “You’re afraid to get with him. You’re afraid that you two won’t have a fulfilling relationship that you can write home to mommy and daddy about. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Hey! That’s not it at all and that’s a low blow even for you, Pepper.” Jazmyn put her feet on the floor again and eyed Pepper angrily.
Pepper held up her hands in surrender. “I’m sorry. It’s just that you’ve always been the goody-goody of the group and you always find a way to look down on the rest of us and our low morals.”
“Oh, hell no I do not. I never look down on any of you, no matter what you do. I don’t think anyone’s morals here are low. I actually admire most of you, Pepper. You’re just being an ass today for some reason. Didn’t you get laid last night?” Jazmyn was mad enough to fight. She’d been part of the group since college, just like all of them. She’d never thought of herself or her choices in life as being goody-goody and she didn’t appreciate Pepper calling her that in such a demeaning way.
“Well, okay, then. Now we’re getting somewhere, Jazzy. I get laid whenever I feel the urge; when was the last time for you?”
“That’s none of your business. I get it whenever I want it, too. I’m just not as horny as you, obviously.” Jazmyn immediately regretted the words, but it was too late to take them back.
“That’s what I’m talking about. You look down on us because you’re too afraid to go out and get laid when you want it. We’re no different than the guys of the world when it comes to wanting and needing sex, all right? We agreed to live freely a long time ago and I just don’t think you’ve ever really lived up to our credo.”
“That’s ridiculous. I have always lived freely, doing what I want, when I want, and with whom I want.” The lie tasted bad on her tongue, but she couldn’t admit to the whole group that she was sexually repressed and she was afraid to go out and just have sex for the sake of having sex. Her family had ingrained it into her that a woman should act a certain way when it comes to sex—like it or not, some of those enslaving, repressing, depressing rules and strictures had made such an impression that she couldn’t shake them easily; some not at all.
Pepper nodded. “Then you should hook up with Gage. He’s all non-commitment and stuff. He’d be good practice for you, Jazzy. You’d be amazed at how much more relaxed you’d be and how much happier you’d be if you’d just go get it every now and then without always planning a wedding and a family just because you’re shaking the sheets with some hot guy.”
“I might just do that, Pepper. And I don’t plan that shit just because I’m having sex with some guy.” She scoffed, her anger turning to embarrassment. How had Pepper picked up on any of that? If Pepper had, had the rest of them, too?
“All right. Let’s make a bet, then. Come on.” Pepper scooted to the edge of the couch and held out her hand to Jazmyn. “Let’s shake on it. No money, just our word as women, as friends.”
“What are we betting on, Pepper?” Jazmyn eyed Pepper warily as she moved to sit by Pepper on the couch.
“I bet you don’t get laid by Gage without some kind of relationship. I bet that you won’t just have sex with him to enjoy having sex without any sort of commitment.” Pepper grinned wide—a very toothy, confident, and cocky grin that Jazmyn didn’t like at all.
The others oohed and ahhed, waiting in anticipation.
Jazmyn grabbed Pepper’s hand and shook it hard. “You bet your skinny little ass that I most certainly will ride the lightning without commitment. I’ll rock Gage’s world and mine. We’ll have so much sex it’ll make all of you green with envy. I’ll do things to him they haven’t even thought of before.”
Pepper fell to laughing and shook Jazmyn’s hand hard. “Whoo! That’s my girl, Jazzy! I knew you had it in you!”
Jazmyn, called out and turned loose now, said, “Mm. Not yet I don’t, but I will have soon, Pepper. I will have soon, girl.” Feeling feisty, she stood and walked to the bar.
The laughter followed her out the door of the lounge and across the expanse of the main room. She determined that she would not only show up Pepper, but the rest of them, too. If they had not been thinking the exact same things about Jazmyn as Pepper had, they would’ve intervened before it had gone so far.