nov~uhl

unedited. unrefined. uncaged.

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CHAPTER ONE

 

I was empty. Everything about me was empty. Even the orgasm I’d just faked had been empty. I looked to my left at a nightstand that didn’t belong to me and there it sat, empty. How did I get here? When had I become this person?

***

Stepping off the subway, I pulled my jacket tighter around myself to stave off the unnatural brisk chill of the early autumn air. Rolling my eyes at the man who shoved me out of his way I shouted after him, “Excuse you!” He didn’t bother with a reply. “Asshole,” I muttered as I fought my way out into the street to catch the next cab. Standing on the curb with my hand out waving aimlessly at the yellow cars driving past, I felt the first drop of rain splash against my forehead. As the taxi pulled up I heard the familiar text alert, the catchy cliché love song that signalled the dreamy sigh as I stared at the name of the sender of said text message while getting into the back of the car. Quickly telling the driver my address, I opened the message and felt all of the breath get sucked out of my lungs. Blinking, I re-read the short and succinct sentence.

‘Maddie, I can’t do this anymore. It’s just not working – it’s over.’

Really? Because the blow job I gave you last night didn’t feel like anything was over, apart from my lack of interest. Fucking asshole – five years ended over a text message? No sir. Not with this girl. Dialling his number with added force, which on a touch screen didn’t have the same effect as one would hope, I put the phone to my ear and listened to it ring. “Hello?” Was this bastard drunk? His slurred words and lack of apprehension proved all signs pointed to yes.

“What the hell is this text message you just sent me?”

“Maddie?”

Deep breaths. “Yes, Aaron.”

“Oh, Maddie. Listen, it’s just not working anymore babe. You know that.”

“No, I don’t! What the hell are you talking about? You haven’t said anything to me, this is coming out of nowhere!” I felt my eyes fill with tears as my heart broke with every word.

“Is it?”

“Aaron, we’ve been together for five years. I moved to San Francisco for you. Because we had all of these plans.”

“Yeah well, sometimes plans change.” I let out a breath of disbelief as the tears started hot and angry down my cheeks. Then I heard it, female laughter. “Gotta go, babe.” Listening to the call end, I threw my phone onto the seat beside me as I stared up at the cloth ceiling of the car and bit my lip against the sobs trying to escape.

“Are you okay?” The taxi driver’s voice was quiet and sympathetic which was appreciated on some level. I nodded my head hoping he would speed up and take me home. I wanted to crawl into bed until I felt nothing. The last five years flashed before me, the day we met in high school; Aaron was the bad boy, the one that drove the cool car, threw the best parties, and got any girl he wanted. Including me. After high school we went to the same college then when he got an internship turned career, I followed him to the Golden Gate Bridge and never looked back. Travelling a lot for work, Aaron would stay with me when he was in town and my other bedroom in my two bedroom apartment was occupied by my roommate turned one of my best friends, Jamie. I watched it all crumble; in a twenty minute car ride, I watched the last five years of my life shatter until it was a pile of rubble.

“Miss, we’re here.” Hastily wiping my cheeks, I reached over to grab my purse, pulling out my wallet.

“This one is on me.”

I looked at him as if he had two heads, hoping some of my deep rooted gratitude showed. “Thank you.” The rain had started to pour; looking up to the sky I couldn’t tell the difference anymore between my own tears and that of the cliché that was teeming down on me. Soaking wet, because of course, why wouldn’t it be raining, thanks Mother Nature, it’s not like I needed a pick–me-up right now, I walked inside and climbed the old staircase that led to my apartment.

“Maddie!”

Oh Jesus fuck. No. My next door neighbor heard my angry, sluggish footsteps and came barreling out of his apartment. I didn’t want to have time for this. The rollercoaster of my emotions right now meant he was prey in shark infested waters. I stood on the top step and lifted my head to look at him. “Whoa, have you been crying?”

“No Darryl, it’s raining.” I stared at his black t shirt of some rock and roll band that faded into existence twenty years ago, the seams of the faded black material split, showing skin so white I would put money on it never having seen the sun. Darryl was a lonely divorced man, still living through his prime of winning one of those local child rock star competitions from when he was fourteen. He was now forty-five. He was the definition of lonely and while most days I would humor his exaggerated stories, today wasn’t one of them. As he opened his mouth I opened my door before we both simultaneously closed both the door and the mouth. I stood there for a minute and leaned my head against the hard wood pane.

“Hey girl! You’re…” I opened my red, swollen eyes at her and watched as her smile immediately faded. “Shit, you’re crying. Sit down, I’ll get the wine.” God love alcoholic friends. Dropping my jacket on the floor, I slumped down into the sofa, my hand immediately filled with a chilled glass of New Zealand Sauvignon. I put it to my lips and drained that bitch. It was instantly refilled. “Okay,” Jamie started, moving to sit beside me. “Start from the beginning.” And thus started the three stages of a break up.

Stage one – sadness.

Recounting my dramatic sordid tale, with a few pauses for a new wave of tears and two refills, I sat there trying to catch my breath from the aftershocks of crying too much. “Oh my god, what an asshole. Who does that? He’s a fucking prick; I always thought you were too good for him anyways, you deserve so much better than that gutter rat.” The trash talking made me feel slightly better, the vehemence in her voice was quite believable which made me wonder, if she thought all these things, why didn’t she tell me sooner? Before I could ask my glass was refilled and I found myself losing count of my wine intake after another bottle was opened. “You know what we should do?”

“Eat some chocolate?”

“No – we should go into your room and pack up all his shit. It would be like a cleansing.” Cleansings were in, everyone was cleansing. Drinking green juices and cutting out bread. When was the last time I had bread? Who the fuck cuts out bread? Bread was the root of all happiness. But we cut out bread because that’s what everyone else did and it made you fat. You know what else made you fat, emotional eating after a breakup. And fuck that, I didn’t cut out bread to be fat.

“Yes, fill up my glass – let’s detox.”

Stage two – anger.

Stage one was short lived, but it would come back around, it always did.

I opened my closet, glass of wine in hand, and pulled the empty storage box from the top shelf. Placing it in the middle of the floor, I ripped the sweaters off the hangers and threw them in. Because, fuck folding. Next went the jeans and shoes, his favourite pair of shoes may have found themselves in the trash. Jamie was in charge of the stuffed animals and whatever mementos that signified the douchebag. Somewhere in the middle of our cleanse we ordered Chinese food and while we waited, the creativity bug chose that opportunity to bite. Feeling artistic, we built a collage placing every photo I had displayed into the box. Right on top. Each one was of course altered with sharpies – mustaches, devil horns, a giant X over his face – we just went with it and let our inner artist free. I thought we should entitle our work, Practically Picasso.

Chinese came, none too soon. Running only on emotions and two bottles of wine, we each needed something to soak them up. Taping the box shut and effectively labelling it THE END I sat with a bowl of noodles in front of me as I opened my laptop while Jamie found the volume nob on the speaker. Facebook opened automatically and as was my reaction almost every time I opened the site, I rolled my eyes and huffed a breath at just the first few posts on my newsfeed. “What is it about social media?”

“What do you mean?” Jamie asked, laughing. Because with wine, everything was funny.

“Look, why? Why does everyone post pictures of their dinner? I don’t want to do that. I don’t care. Should I be caring? I don’t. I can’t. I don’t care.”

“Sounds like you just answered your own question. Oh my god – lightbulb! Do you know what you should do?”

“Post a picture of my noodles?”

“No. I mean, you’d probably get twenty likes for it, but no. We should create an online dating account for you!”

I stared at her like she had two heads. Twenty likes? For noodles? She’d obviously drank too much. “Dude, he just broke up with me like five hours ago.” I blew out a rough breath and fell onto the bed beside her. I felt it hit me again the minute my chin started to quiver. I felt the hot streak of silent tears down my cheek. Pulling the pillow under me I instinctively crawled into the fetal position and let myself fall back into stage one. I could almost feel Jamie’s concern as she big spooned me, pulling the blanket over both of us. Nothing else needed to be said and she let me cry until my eyes burned and I had nothing left but to surrender to sleep.

CHAPTER TWO

 

I scrubbed a hand over my face not worrying about the makeup I didn’t put on that morning before work. My eyes were swollen and red and really, there was no amount of makeup that could cover up my hangover and broken dreams. Stepping out to grab some lunch, I decided it was going to be a good idea to Skype my mom and let her know the news. I had no reasons as to why this was a good idea, I just went with it. Fluffing my hair, like that would make a difference, I pressed call and waited for her to answer.

“Hey sweetheart! Oh lord, you look like shit, did you go to work like that?” If my mother was anything, it was honest.

I groaned. “Mom.”

“Are you okay? You look sick.”

“I’m not sick Mom, I’m sad.”

“Why are you sad?”

“Because I got dumped.”

“Oh honey. Don’t waste your tears on a boy who doesn’t deserve them.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means good riddance – he was a loser.” I raised my eyebrow as my grandmother who I lovingly referred to as Mimi, stepped behind my mom and told me her equally honest opinion.

“What the hell?” I asked, baffled that none of my feelings were spared in this traumatic time in my life. “Why am I just hearing this from you now?”

My mom sighed. “You needed to find your own path darling, onto bigger and better things- does this mean you’re finally moving home?” Even though she supported me in every aspect of my life, when I’d told my mom I was moving across the country, I knew she was devastated. For so long it had been me, my mom and Mimi and when I moved to chase after my boyfriend, I knew she quieted her concerns and refusals and let me follow my dreams. Even though I’d moved to San Francisco to be with Aaron, I’d found a job in my field that I liked, most of the time, an apartment that I loved and friends that I couldn’t imagine not seeing on the regular. Moving home would mean finding another job, moving back in with my mom and starting from the bottom all over again.

“Mom, I love it here, even if I came here for someone, I’m staying here for myself.”

Mimi rolled her eyes. “Was that from your latest fortune cookie?”

“You know for an old gal, you’re still quite spritely.” Her answer was the middle finger.

“Do you remember my friend Marg? She has a grandson who lives in San Francisco and he’s a very nice boy…”

I cut her off. “No thanks!” I refused to have my grandmother set me up on a date, just the thought of it was depressing. After waving and blowing kisses to my computer screen, I picked up my phone and sent a message to Jamie;

‘We’re going out – I need to dance.’

‘Yassss girl! I have the perfect outfit for you to wear tonight.’ I could only imagine…

 

Well, this was it, the turning point in my life where I where I officially turned from a lowly advertising admin to a high class street walker. Tugging at the too short skirt and the crop top that revealed way too much midriff, I could only hope I didn’t look as awkward as I felt. Letting the bravery of three shots of tequila take over, we walked right up to the bouncer and flashed a grin. He didn’t even bother to check our ID, he simply gave us a once over and thrust his thumb over his shoulder letting us past the growing line up. Alright, so maybe the outfit was doing something for me but my buzz was wearing off and the need to be mind-numbing drunk was of all importance.

I found myself on the dancefloor, the heavy beat of the music vibrating through me as I let myself just move. My inebriation was strong enough that I didn’t care what it looked like, I just wanted to move freely with the rhythm. I could have looked like a pig having a seizure for all I knew. Apparently the man at the bar who smiled at me as I motioned to the bartender for another didn’t think so. In fact, the man offered to buy me a drink. I smiled. He was a bit blurry, he could have had dark hair. I didn’t answer right away and while I took my time forming words, he’d already paid for the glass sitting in front of me.

“Thanks.” I smiled again, embarrassingly.

“My pleasure.”

We talked for a bit – he asked questions, I answered – although to remember what those questions or answers were, I would have no idea. “What are you doing after?”

“After?” I asked. “After what?”

He laughed. “When you leave here.”

“Going home.” I tried not to show my confusion.

“Did you want to get out of here and go to my place?”

By this time Jamie had left the man she’d been dancing with and had come up beside me just as he’d asked his question. I turned to look at her, I’m sure my disbelief was written all over my face – sober me had a hard time hiding what she was thinking when she was sober, forget drunk Maddie.

Jamie smiled at him then grabbed my shoulders and turned me around to face her. “You need to go with him.” Before I could protest she barrelled on. “Best way to get over a guy is to get under a new one and trust me honey, you need to get under that one. If you don’t I will.”

I was still unsure, I’d been in a relationship for so long that I’d never had the opportunity to just go home with some random guy. But hey, hashtag YOLO.

And here lies the third and final stage of a breakup – revenge. Some may say that forgiveness or acceptance or whatever other peaceful, hippie word they can come up with is the final stage but no matter how much time passes, it could be ten years and you could be totally and completely over this man, but the minute you find out you’re going to be seeing him, you damn well know you are going to be looking your best. A giant, look at what you are missing out on, biatch. Always.

CHAPTER THREE

 

Following, rather stumbling into this guy’s apartment, I looked around and noticed what I considered a typical bachelor pad – there was a couch that he probably picked up from behind an alley, old plastic crates as side tables, some t shirts that had been strewn about the small living room and two white Styrofoam containers sitting on the coffee table. I twisted my hands in front of me, my buzz slowly disappearing leaving me feeling awkward in a situation I had no idea how to navigate. After turning on some lights casting his apartment in a dim, almost romantic setting, he walked toward me and slowly pulled my jacket from my shoulders. With a warm smile, he told me to have a seat and disappeared into the kitchen before returning with two drinks in hand.

“Vodka water,” he told me, handing the glass to me. I put it to my lips and drank what I’m sure were the only two things he had in his fridge, in one shot. Sitting beside me, he took the empty glass from my hand and put it on the table, placing his beside mine. His knee touched mine and before I could say or do anything, his hand was cupping my jaw and his lips were slammed against mine. I felt myself stiffen, hesitate. But oh how I loved kissing. It didn’t take long for the butterflies to start and I allowed myself to melt into the spell of a great make-out session. He moved to kiss my neck and take off my shirt at the same time. It was a slick move and everything was progressing so quickly I had no time to consider how or why he was so flawless at getting me naked. Pulling me off the couch, he continued to kiss me, to hypnotize me under this new excitement as we stumbled awkwardly down the hall to his bedroom. Pushing me gently onto the mattress, he kneeled in between my legs, pushing my skirt around my hips. Limbs and fingers were tangling with the urge to touch each other. I wanted him just as naked as me and I wanted to explore and kiss and touch and before I could do any of that he’d moved off of me, assumingly to grab a condom and suddenly, shockingly he was inside of me in one hard, rough thrust. My eyes widened at the unexpected intrusion. Well, maybe not unexpected, I was lying on his bed with my skirt around my hips but damn, it wasn’t the Sahara desert down there but it wasn’t the Pacific Ocean either, shit.

So many feelings washed over me and unsure how to react, I closed my eyes and tried to get into it, feeling some stirrings deep in my belly. Was that him doing that or was that me? I knew I needed to help myself out because this man clearly was only focused on himself. Selfish. I wondered if I asked him, if he remembered my name. Did I remember his name? Could be Rob, maybe Ryan. Something with an R. I managed to push myself over the edge at the same time he did. Just barely – a blip on the orgasm scale. With a grunt, he rolled over and left me to pull the blankets warily over myself. With my skirt still bunched around my waist, I couldn’t help but smile – I did it. I actually had sex with a stranger I met in a club. I don’t know why that was an accomplishment, but it was.

“You okay?”

I looked over at his sleepy face and smiled, nodding my head. I had no idea what to say. Did we talk about our dreams, our five-year plans? With no clue as to what happened now, I pulled the blanket up to my neck feeling naked and vulnerable. I wondered when the last time he washed it as I waited for his arm to come around me before we blissfully fell asleep.

He yawned, “Listen, this was fun but I have to get up early tomorrow for work.”

“Oh.” I watched my fantasy fall to shards at my feet. I felt my cheeks flush. “Right, of course. I should go then.”

“Okay.”

I could feel my own mortification as I slipped from the bed and pulled my skirt down, scrambling to find my shirt. Seeing a t shirt on the floor, I scooped it up. “I’m taking this.”

He smiled and nodded. I needed to cover up, suddenly and not for the first time, feeling too exposed. He walked me to his door, blissfully naked with no cares in the world, he scratched his chest and kissed my forehead.

Handing me his card, he’d made sure I put it in my purse. “Call me if you ever want to do this again.”

I stared at the card then back to him. “Oh, okay. Cool.” I turned and walked away. David! That was his name. I wasn’t going to call him but I kept his card anyways. I pushed away my embarrassment as I stepped into the elevator. Maybe that was just how it was done.

I walked outside and felt the sway of my hips, the way the night air blew my hair around as I strutted down the street, a new pep in my step. I just got laid. I threw my fist in the air in victory. Then a cab pulled over to the side of the road thinking my fist pump was actually a hail, whatever, I went with it. I jumped into the cab and gave him directions to my apartment. I caught the cab driver looking at me in his rear-view mirror taking in my mini skirt, heels and overly large men’s t shirt. “Whatever you’re thinking right now is probably pretty accurate,” I informed him. I didn’t need his judgement to sour my newly elated disposition. He snorted, averting his attention back to the road. We both enjoyed the silence for the rest of the drive. I so desperately wanted to spill my guts but it was clear the driver had no interest in my promiscuous activities and didn’t want to hear it.

It was after four in the morning as I walked into my apartment. All the lights were off and instead of going to bed, I walked into Jamie’s room. I shook her awake. “I slept with him!” I squealed.

With her eyes still closed, she groaned. “Congratulations, you’re officially a slut.” She held up her hand for a high five which I dutifully reciprocated, grinning like a maniac, before she rolled back over and to sleep. I fell into my own bed and into sleep with a victorious smile on my face.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

A week later I stared at my closet full of new clothes. My victory of banging the guy from the club was starting to fade and I needed to fill that void, that empty loneliness I didn’t want to acknowledge and the next best thing to strange dick was shopping. Remembering the attention I’d gotten in the scraps of clothing the weekend before, I bought more outrageous clothes, things my mother would never approve of. I could almost her hear voice now, telling me with absolute certainty that I was a tramp or a tarte or a trollop or some other ridiculous name that started with a t.

In the past week, I had refused to look at any social media since Aaron broke up with me. Finding the courage, I pulled my computer onto my lap as I sat on my bed, stacking the pillows behind me. Pulling up Facebook, the first thing on my newsfeed was Aaron. The bastard stared back at me with a shit eating grin in a photo with two hot girls hanging on each arm. I felt sick. Angrily, I slammed the keys a little too hard on my keyboard as I immediately changed my status to single (and ready to fucking mingle!) and deleted and blocked my prick of an ex-boyfriend. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. Releasing it slowly, I cracked my neck and opened my eyes, the urge to shatter something slowly disappearing. My gaze caught on an ad on the side of the screen for an online dating site. Cocking a brow, I hovered my mouse over the overly happy couple on the image. I felt it, the revenge. It fired through my blood and before I could make a decision, I heard the click of the mouse and the watched the screen change from my newsfeed to an overly large slogan telling me I am in control of my love life. Pursing my lips, I clicked search and entered the shallowest search I could think of. I didn’t even bother looking at any of the questions about schooling or hobbies, because really, I didn’t care. And damn Gina, look what I found! The first page of my search results showed two or three cute guys in my area, the next page showed more. I clicked on sign up.

I chewed on my thumbnail as I stared with glazed eyes at the still blank ‘Create your profile’ page. I had written then deleted the first sentence three times already. I needed to show that I was witty and fun and totally bangable. The best thing about an online dating profile was that I got to pretend that all of those things were actually true. And hey, everyone lies on their dating profile, right? After twenty minutes I’d come up with pure gold;

My bedroom walls are black, as is the colour of my soul. I’m told I’m good with my mouth, often as I spew overly sarcastic comments at people when I’m uncomfortable. My idea of flirting is being as awkward as I can and seeing if you can handle it. If you offer me the world, I’ll tell you I can get that on my own, offer me a drink and you can have my panties. If you ask me how much attention I need I’ll tell you all of it. My favourite food group is wine.

Good enough. Moving on to the next set of questions I frowned at the screen. What the hell was an average body type? Average by whose standards? Who are these body type specialists and how does one get that job? Guessing, exaggerating and hiding my way through the rest of the questions, I finally hit submit and felt my stomach plummet as my profile flew out into cyberspace where it would live on forever. Or until I deleted it, whichever came first. Waiting for my confirmation email, I looked up at the sound of a knock on my door.

Looking through the peephole, I contemplated just pretending I wasn’t home. “Hi Maddie.” Damn it, why did I open the door? My neighbor Darryl leaned against the doorframe, a drink in his hand, his leather jacket draped over his shoulders. It was clear he’d had a couple and although he tested my patience unlike anyone else, he was just a lonely man who wanted someone to talk to. A part of me felt sorry for him which was why I continued to listen to his ridiculous stories.

“Hey Darryl. How’s it going?”

“You’ll never guess what just happened to me.” I waited for him to continue as he took a gulp of whatever red liquid was in his glass. “So I was across the street grabbing some food, right. And there was this girl in there, she was with her mother and I’m telling you, she was absolutely gorgeous. Like should have been on the cover of a magazine, gorgeous.”

“Yeah?” Already, this story was too much.

“Yeah. So you know, I go up to her and I tell her that she’s really beautiful. She smiled and said thank you and told me I was handsome. She told me that! I didn’t even have to pull the whole, ‘oh, is this your sister?’ line to her mom. It was clearly her mother. So then I grabbed my food and came back home, then I realized as I walked up the stairs that she was hitting on me. Can you believe it?”

No.

“So then, I thought, I should probably go back, right?”

Oh god, no.

“So I did.”

Of course you did.

“But she had left. I even asked the guy behind the counter and he told me she had left a few minutes before I got back there. I can’t believe it, the most gorgeous girl was hitting on my and I had no idea! I’m such an idiot. I should have realized and got her phone number.”

“Yeah, that would have been good.” I could hear the lack of everything in my voice but Darryl heard nothing but his own voice. Oh lord, if women were hitting on Darryl then I really needed to take a good look at myself. He was a nice guy but every shirt he owned had rips and tears, and not because they were modern and cool. He was balding but refused to admit to it allowing his hair to grow past his shoulders and upon meeting Darryl for the first time I thought he had two black eyes only to realize they were just dark bags.

“It’s always been like that, you know. Girls, they just flock to me for some reason.”

I really struggled to not roll my eyes.

“I don’t know what it is, I mean, I know I’m not the best looking guy, but they just want me.”

“It’s a gift,” I told him. Darryl was clearly in his own little world looking in a mirror that provided miracles. I wanted that mirror.

“It is. I’ve been engaged five times and every single one of them, the girl has asked me to marry them. I’ve never asked a girl to marry me.”

“And have you ever been married?”

“I was once, but in the end that was too much of a commitment for me. I can’t be tied down, you know? I’m a free spirit, Maddie, I can’t be shackled to one woman.”

“Right, makes sense. Fair enough.”

He sighed, almost as if reminiscing about his make belief past before downing the rest of his drink. Holding it up to show me it was empty, the ice cubes clinked around the glass. “I guess I should go get a refill.”

“That sounds like a plan.” I smiled at him as he turned and walked back into his apartment. I took the opportunity to do the same, shaking my head as I slid the lock in place. Hearing the ding of my laptop, I pulled it in front of me to see what the commotion is all about. Surfer_Dude69 wanted to live chat – hell no. “Nope, not ready for that,” I said out loud as I closed the chat window. Another immediately sent me a rose emoji. That was it. An emoji. “Really? Stop it. No, yuck.” Making a gagging noise I closed my laptop, having had enough for one day.

Walking into work the next day, my head was pounding with a non-alcoholic hangover. Which was the worst kind of hangover. Not getting much sleep the night before, I dragged my feet all the way to my little cubicle. Even though it was small, it was my own, one that I’d worked hard for. In my last year of college I’d applied to three different advertising agencies hoping with all I had to get the opportunity to work under the most talked about name in today’s advertising world – Melanie Moore. And it was the day Mel called me herself to tell me I had the job. Unpaid of course. Young, innocent, virginal, some would say I was as I walked into the office for the first time and found my jaw on the floor. I don’t know what I was expecting but I could feel the vibrancy of the creativity boxed into these four walls. Six months later, the last day of my internship, Mel pulled me into her office and offered me a permanent position with the company. Paid – like a boss! Even though Mel was a hard ass; she pushed me in ways that sometimes had me on the verge of tears but I knew it was with good intention, in ways that I needed to be pushed. I’d come up with some of my most creative campaigns under her thumb and I didn’t hesitate when I accepted. It had been almost two years of paying my dues and I was pulling over the idea of requesting more responsibility. I knew I was still a rookie and I’d completed a number of successful campaigns for small businesses but my eyes were set on the big time. I wanted that one campaign that would get my own name out there. Eventually I wanted my own agency, just a small boutique business but it would be one where the creativity would be of my own construction. Ah, dreams – the sound of my phone summoning me into Mel’s office pulled me right out of those.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

“Maddie, good morning. I need you to call and set up a meeting with Ben Davis. He’s the owner of…”

“Slice.”

“Slice,” she repeated, pausing as I cut her off. Oops. But Ben Davis was a big fucking deal – he was the newest hot shot, gazillionare business man around San Francisco. I didn’t know much about him, only that his name carried a heavy weight. “You’ll speak to his assistant to set up a meeting, I’ve emailed you my schedule.”

I picked up the phone and dialed the phone number she’d emailed me. “Slice, how can I help you?”

“Hello, my name is Maddie and I’m calling on behalf of Melanie Moore looking to speak to Ben Davis.”

“One moment please.”

I tapped my fingers along to the on hold music before a younger than expected feminine voice filled the line. “Maddie?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, I’m Val, Ben’s assistant.”

“Oh great, Mel had told me to give you a call so we can set up a meeting.”

“Ah, a meeting of the minds.”

I laughed. “Yes, exactly.” I listened as she gave me Ben’s availability and we set the date. “That’s great, thanks for your help Val.”

“Anytime, I’m sure we’ll be talking soon.”

“I’m sure we will be. Thanks again.” I don’t know what it was about the short conversation, but I had a feeling I really liked Val.

After work, I met Jamie and a few of my friends, Lisa, Angela, and Beth at a local bar around the corner. Lisa and Angela had grown up and lived in San Francisco all their lives; they were the typical Californian girl, blonde hair, blue eyes and perfect. They made me want to gag half the time and I would probably hate them if they weren’t so damn cool. Beth was an immigrant like me coming from the great scapes of the Colorado Mountains who considered herself free to be her own person, one that loved the company of both men and women, if you get my drift, in Northern California. We’d all stumbled upon each other in the hallway of college where we became fast friends.

“Oh, here comes the slut now!” Jamie called to me as I walked toward the table.

“Why don’t you say that a little louder? I don’t think the guy on the sidewalk heard you.”

“Hey girl, how are you doing?” Beth asked, as I sat down.

“Peachy. How are you guys?”

“Saw the Facebook status, making it official now,” Lisa chimed in.

“I think it was official when I saw Aaron in a photo with two other girls.”

Angela scrunched up her face. “What? He’s disgusting anyways, you don’t need him. But we did hear that you’re a dirty skank now, congratulations.”

“Oh, thank you so much, that means a lot.” I held up the drink they’d already ordered for me and as they held up theirs, we cheers’d to one night stands.

“Was he hot?” Lisa asked, her eyes laughing.

“Yes,” Jamie and I said in unison. “Anyways,” I continued, not wanting to delve into my awkwardness of my first post-breakup sexcapade. “I think you’ll all be happy to know that I decided to take the plunge into the virtual world of dating.”

Jamie squealed, loudly and embarrassing. “You did?”

“I did,” I confirmed.

For the next half an hour I heard stories only praising online dating; Lisa met her fiancé online and Angela met her current boyfriend from a popular site as well. Their stories made me feel optimistic about my decision and I knew I had to give it a chance. I couldn’t sit and wallow in my misery, Aaron sure as hell wasn’t.

“Come on, Maddie. Open up the app on your phone, we need to see this dating pool you’re dealing with,” Beth urged.

I laughed. Pulling out my phone, we all huddled around the small screen and immediately flicked to the six new messages. Damn, look at me – go girl! The first message was from an older gentleman, bordering senior citizen area telling me I was beautiful and if I would ever be interested in getting a drink to get a hold of him. Okay, so maybe not such a good start. Pressing delete opened the next one in line. We went through and deleted all but one. Diamond in the ruff. “Oh, he is cute!” Jamie noticed with wide eyes. “We obviously need to reply.”

“Obviously,” I drawled, gesturing to the server for another drink. Together, the five of us came up with a two sentence reply that I could have fit into five words but apparently I needed to flext – flirting through text. I kept my excitement under wraps, played it cool. But the dude was cute; he had a decent but simple profile and I found myself biting my lip as I hesitated to press send. Jamie leaned over and pressed it for me. Shaking my head I put my phone face down on the table beside me. “So,” I started. “I saw a picture of Aaron on Facebook. With a random hanging off each arm.”

Angela grabbed her phone and pulled up the picture. “Ew. Those trolls are hideous.” I had to laugh. They were actually gorgeous if you were into the whole, plastic Barbie doll look, but calling them trolls made me feel better. They could have been the nicest people I’d ever met, but for now, they were fucking trolls.

My phone vibrated beside me. “It’s a new message from Mr. Fun2BeWith.”

“Well, what does it say?”

“Ahem. ‘You’re gorgeous – my favourite colour is black and I’m sure you make awkward look good.  I see we share similar tastes in food groups, now let me ask you – red or white?’”

I laughed out loud as he quoted my profile.

“Oh he’s smooth. My vagina is tingling,” Jamie said, swiping through his photos.

Grabbing my phone back, I typed out a quick but to the point reply. “I’m not biased.”

Suddenly, I had a chat request from Mr. Fun2BeWith. “Tell me you’re free Friday night,” he’d typed.

I looked with wide eyes around the table not knowing how to answer. “What the hell do I say?” I asked them.

“You say ‘Yes, should I bring large or magnum condoms?’” Beth said as if there wasn’t anything else to say.

“Or,” Lisa started. “You could maybe not show him that you’re a super slut, you know, save that for later, and play coy.”

“Okay, I like that,” I told her. Beth rolled her eyes, liking her idea better. Typing back, I wrote “I guess that depends…”

“On?” he asked.

“On where you’re planning on taking me.”

“How about I promise it’ll be a night to remember?”

I bit my lip, narrowing my eyes at the screen. Contemplating. Finally I typed my answer. “Alright.” I typed my number after my one word answer and put my phone away.

“He’s so hot, if it doesn’t work out please feel free to give him my number,” Jamie told me with a wink.

“I have a good feeling about this!” Lisa said, her excitement making me roll my eyes.

“Alright, let’s not get carried away,” I said, laughing uncomfortably. “How are things at work, Ang?”

Staying for one more drink, we chatted and gossiped and laughed and by the time we said our goodbyes, Jamie and I were standing on the curb hailing a cab.

“I’m so hungry – can we locate a drive through or something?”

She stared at me like I was crazy. “Um no, a revenge body does not include fast food – you now live off coffee and emotional pain.”

“Oh.” I laughed. “Okay, and how do you know this?”

“It’s in the handbook, did you not read it?”

“No, I must have left my copy at home. What’s it called again?”

She rolled her eyes in exaggeration as she pulled the car door closed, scooting in beside me. “It’s called, ‘Housewives Are Boring, Everyone Loves a Good Hoe. Revenge bodies are in the final chapter entitled, ‘Checkmate, Bitch!’”

The cab driver turned in his seat and looked at her with wide, curious and inviting eyes. He licked his lips. Shaking her head she frowned. “No, in what world? Turn around.” She gave him our address as I fell back, covering my mouth with my hand, tears now streaming down my cheeks as I shook with laughter. Still giggly as we walked through the front door, I yawned at the same time Jamie did. “I’m going to bed,” I told her.

“Me too. Love you.”

“Love you,” I echoed, exhaustion suddenly weighing my eyes down. Leaving a trail of clothes behind me, I fell into bed and let out a sigh of pleasure. Bed, heaven. My phone vibrated with a text message as I reached over to plug it in. Mr. Fun2BeWith. ‘Sweet dreams, gorgeous.’ I bit my lip and contemplated what to write back. I erased three responses before finally pressing send‘Ditto.’

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

“Hi Mom!”

“Hi Sweetheart, how’s it going?”

“Good, just at work. How about with you?”

“Oh it’s going, but you caught me at a bad time, love. I have an appointment downtown in an hour.”

“What’s your appointment for?”

“Just about the hall for Mimi’s party. You know how terrible I am at keeping secrets, I don’t know how I’m going to keep my mouth shut for the next couple of months.”

I laughed. “You’ll be alright.”

“You’re still coming home next weekend right?”

“Yep, booked my ticket a few days ago.”

“Perfect. Okay honey, I’ll call you later.”

I hung up with a sigh. Since I was seven, it had been the three of us; me, Mom and Mimi. My dad decided having a wife wasn’t for him and although it wasn’t the worst divorce in the world, that same courtesy extended to his daughter. He’d moved away and his idea of keeping in touch was calling twice a year to check in. He certainly didn’t deserve any medals but he was mine. In his absence, my childhood was female strong, bracketed by fierce, independent women. Women that I looked up to in every way and adored with all of me. They instilled in me liberation, resilience and sass. Which reminded me, I had an appointment to get my lady bits waxed.

Eyes closed, spread-eagled, a chipper blonde halo between my thighs. That was my current position. “What were you thinking, darling? American, French, Brazilian?”

“Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” I asked in return, completely confused.

“No, how much did you want to take off?”

Oh. Just like my heart I wanted it empty. “Take it all.”

 

Climbing the stairs to my apartment, I stopped and took a deep breath. Jeans were not a good idea. “Hey girl, what’s going on?” Jamie asked, stepping into the hall.

“I need to ice my vagina.”

“Oh, that sounds like fun. I’d love to help but I’m going to go grocery shopping. Need anything?”

“Ice.”

“Noted.”

Peeling the horrendous denim from my legs, I fell onto my bed, naked from the waist down and relished in the heaven. Lazily, I reached down and grabbed for my phone. Opening up the only app that was receiving any attention on my phone recently – it was annoyingly addictive. “Yuck,” swipe left. “Yucky,” swipe left. “Even yuckier,” swipe left. “Oh, hellooo there,” swipe right, good sir. Should I feel guilty? I didn’t. But I did have a date tomorrow with someone else and I was looking at other men, albeit gorgeous, cute men. And I wasn’t tied down to Mr.Fun2BeWith, I didn’t even know his real name. I looked up to the ceiling and pondered, searching my conscience for any niggle of guilt. Nope, nothing. I was single damn it, I deserved my time to mingle. Alright, pep talk over.

A chat window opened and there he was, Mr. Fun2BeWith. “Hey gorgeous. Making sure we’re still on for tomorrow.”

I smiled, biting my lip like a little school girl. “Yes, definitely.”

“Great. So I was thinking we could go for a walk down by the water and grab something to eat while we’re down there.” It sounded good, relaxing, no expectations, no awkward moments staring at each other across a table over food we were desperately trying not to spill on ourselves.

“That sounds like a plan.”

“Good. I’ll text you the address where to park.”

“Okay. See you tomorrow.”

 

I’d spent more than two hours getting ready, my room was a disaster, a hurricane of clothes covering every surface, my floor littered with makeup, the eye of the storm in front of my full length mirror. In my car, my nerves were a ten on the Richter scale as I listened tentatively to the instructions from my GPS until I heard “You have reached your destination.” Nervous was an understatement. I felt like I was going to be sick. Getting out of the car, I pulled down my skirt, one my mother would tsk and give a disgusted sigh about. Smoothing down my hair I reached for my phone to let Mr. Fun2BeWith know that I was here. Before I could press send, I looked up and felt my knees buckle. Damn Daniel! The man’s pictures didn’t do him justice. Walking toward me he was a tall drink of water in stylish jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt showing just a hint of what looked to be delicious muscles underneath. Jackpot! I mentally gave myself a high-five.

He smiled as he got closer and suddenly I was in his arms, his lips at my ear. “Hi Gorgeous.” Pulling back, he looked at me up and down and as his eyes found mine I’d felt like I’d just passed some sort of unspoken test. “Alex.”

I grinned, shaking his outstretched hand. “Maddie.”

I fidgeted as he stood in front of me, looking at me like he wanted to eat me alive. Well let’s go big boy, let’s do it. He pulled me in for another hug. “Want to skip the walk?” he asked, murmuring into my hair. I could only nod my agreement. Taking my hand Alex led me through the cluster of buildings to his. Interesting that he didn’t mention he actually lived here. The elevator ride was silent. I didn’t know if the quiet was awkward or it was just me. It was my first real date in forever, what was I supposed to say? Just as I opened my mouth to ask him a question, a lame one, but one that would end the silence, the elevator doors opened and I followed him out. Walking into his condo, I stood in the front entry impressed with the modern clean lines. Throwing his keys on the table, he looked over his shoulder with a devil’s grin. “Have a seat.” Doing as I was told, I sat on the edge of the grey leather couch listening as he sang to himself in the kitchen. Emerging, he had two drinks in his hands and if I were honest with myself, I didn’t care what was in them as long as it was alcohol. I needed something to calm my nerves before I made a total ass of myself.

I held mine up to his. “Cheers.”

He nodded. “Cheers.”

After twenty minutes and three drinks, I found myself on my back with his tongue down my throat. Surprisingly, shockingly, finally. I was certainly not complaining; he had to be one of the hottest guys I’d ever laid her eyes on and he wanted to kiss me. Me. I tilted my head back with a sigh as he started kissing my neck. Grabbing the hem of my shirt, he moved to pull the thin fabric over my head in one swift movement. My skirt was next as he almost simultaneously produced a condom. Damn, the man moved fast. Yeah he was hot, but I wasn’t, not yet. Not even heavy petting? Dude thought kissing my neck was foreplay. Frustration and a sense of misery started to settle in. And oh boy, that’s disappointing, I thought as he took his pants off and rolled a condom over himself, gripping himself and staring at me with pride. I had no idea where the pride came from, this certainly was no Guinness World Records. Did he want me to congratulate him on his less than stellar manhood? I had vibrators bigger than him. Which was already clear I’d be using later. Maybe this would be the case of ‘its not size that matters, its how they use it.’ Five minutes later it was clear he didn’t know how to use it either as I lay naked on the couch staring up at the ceiling, not even panting. “Do you need to go clean up?”

I squeezed my eyes closed, pretending for just a moment that he didn’t just ask me that. No! My mind screamed. Instead I smiled tightly and went to the washroom, to what? Stare at my sexually frustrated self.  I did not want to be there anymore. I counted to sixty, going through his mundane medicine cabinet to waste time pretending I was ‘cleaning myself up’ only to walk out finding him coincidentally stretching and yawning. Ripping off the band aid, I beat him to it.

“Listen, I have to get up early tomorrow so I should head out.” His immediate surprise was of little victory. Moving to the front door, I slipped my shoes on.

Scratching his chest, he frowned, almost as if he was unsure of what to say. “Well I should walk you to your car.”

I wasn’t an idiot. It was dark and I was wearing a skirt whose length screamed prostitute. “Yeah, probably.” He walked me down to my car in silence and as I started to move for my door, he pulled me in for a hug. “We should do this again,” he murmured.

“Maybe!” I slipped into my car before he could say anything more and left him standing on the sidewalk as I drove away.

 

I fell onto my bed completely and utterly unsatisfied. My phone chirped a familiar sound from inside of my purse. Grabbing it, I opened the group chat and read each of the follow the leader questions in varying forms of ‘Maddie… we need details.’ 

I blew out a rough breath. How do I explain? ‘Polls are in… size does matter,’ I typed back.

‘You did not have sex with him! Omg, deets, now!’ Lisa wrote. ‘I’m assuming that because you’re home, he was on the losing end of the size game,’ Jamie typed from the next room, both her and I too lazy to move from the comfort of bed.

‘Ding, ding. I’m going to sleep now, hoping this is a terrible dream. Sweet nightmares. Xo’

Taking a look at myself, I realized I was still in my clothes. Forcing myself up with a huff, I quickly stripped and staring at the bathroom, felt the need to brush my teeth. I contemplated a shower but let’s be real, that was just too much work and I was considerably lacking in enthusiasm.

My phone lit up with a notice from one of the dating apps as I attempted to brush the cooties out of my mouth. The new message icon stared at me judgingly. Shrugging my shoulders, I gave into the curiosity and opened the folder. It wasn’t that he was attractive, or that he spoke sweet nothings, it was out of some misplaced need for attention in my time of sexual suffering that made me start talking to him. That or probably because I’d realized this newfound shallow self and he’d told me I was pretty – fuck anyone’s judgement, everyone needs a pick me up sometimes.

“How’s your night going?”

“It could have been better,” I replied, deciding to leave out the part about why.

“I’m sure I can make it better.” I waited to see what he would come up with – a flower emoji and a hugging bear. I rolled my eyes before noticing there was an attachment. Without thinking, I opened it. Dick pic. My first dick pic! Again, I wasn’t sure why this was an accomplishment to be proud of. Maybe because it was a pretty penis. I sent him my phone number.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

I held my breath. Not disappointed for the first time that night, I immediately received a text message

‘Hey gorgeous.’

‘Hey gorgeous, yourself,’ I typed in response as I climbed into bed.

‘Tell me what you’re wearing.’ Oh, hello! He started talking dirty and I instantly recoiled. It felt so forbidden but it felt good after the night I’d had. I had no idea how to respond. I’d never talked dirty to anyone in my life. I was awkward at almost everything I did, talking dirty would not be an exception to that. Taking the plunge, I responded, keeping it short and simple. Maybe less was more in the dirty talk department. He seemed to like it. We continued our little tête-à-tête; reading carefully what he was writing, I obeyed the commands he was dealing out and ten minutes later I found myself orgasming for the first time that night.

‘Thank you dick pic.’

‘My pleasure. Until next time, sweet dreams ma-d85.’

Until next time indeed, I smiled. ‘Night, SuperMan28.’

 

Over the weekend, I holed myself in my room and worked day and night on my project for work. I had a real chance at a promotion where I would get a legitimate title and more responsibilities. I sat surrounded by post it notes and idea boards for new campaign and I had some good ideas swimming around but I needed more. Pulling up Google, glorious Google, I searched the black hole of information, learning about Ben Davis and his thriving company. Looking through the Wikipedia search, I was surprised to see how young Mr. Davis was based solely on his success alone. His image, although blurry, looked to still be in his twenties and if he wasn’t, the man either had good genes or an amazing skin care routine. The man’s skin was wrinkle-free and flawless. Regardless of what Ben Davis looked like, my focus needed to be on making this project my best work yet.

“Maddie!”

Two hours later, I looked up from my computer screen to the sound of my roommate slamming our front door, screaming my name. Bounding from my chair, I ran into the living room to see her slump onto the couch. “What’s wrong? What happened?” I demanded. “Are you alright?”

Jamie threw her arm over her face, letting out a defeated breath at the same time. “I just came from the doctor’s.”

“Okay.” I was suddenly concerned, treading carefully.

“They gave me some news.”

I was holding my breath. “And what was that news?”

“I need a glass of wine.”

“I’ll get you one in a minute. Tell me what the doctor said.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay. Well, you know how I met that one guy a couple months ago and we’ve been kind of seeing each other?”

“Which one? You date like three different guys a week.”

“That is an exaggeration,” she argued.

“Barely. But okay, I think I know which one you’re talking about.”

“Okay well, apparently he gave me a… gift.”

I choked on my breath of horror. “A gift?”

“Chlamydia,” she said over a cough and a whine.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that.”

“You heard me!”

I clamped my lips shut at a burst of laughter tried to escape. It wasn’t funny, well not really. It was more out of shock than anything. “So what now?” I managed to ask.

“Now I have to take these little pills and I apparently have to make a few phone calls. To everyone I’ve slept with in the past month.”

“Oh god.” Horrifying. “And how many is that?”

“Well, there is the giver, he’ll get a piece of my mind. And one other.”

“Okay, not so bad.”

“Not so bad? Do you want to make the phone call for me?”

“Never in a million years. Good luck to you, friend.”

“Hooker,” she muttered as I walked back to my room.

“Nope, I believe you hold that title. Your doctor would agree with me.” She threw a pillow, just barely missing me.

 

The next day I climbed the stairs to my apartment, a bead of sweat trickling down my temple as the grocery bags I was carrying started burning my forearms. As I reached the top, there he was. Darryl stood, leaning against the wall between my door and his in a red Hugh Heffner robe drinking a red wine spritzer out of a mason jar. How did I know it was a red wine spritzer? Because, “Hey Maddie!”

“Hey Darryl. How’s it going?”

“It’s going. Got myself a red wine spritzer, so can’t be too bad, right? It was the only thing I could find. Wish it was something harder, but it is what it is.”

“Darryl, its ten o’clock in the morning.”

“Breakfast of champions.”

“Touché.” I dropped my bags in front of my door, not able to carry them any further. Damn they were heavy, what the hell did I buy?

“Did I ever tell you that I am a musician?”

Oh boy. “Yes, you have actually.” Every time we speak.

“Yeah, well it’s true. I was actually on MTV when I was younger. There’s a video online, you should check it out.”

“I will definitely do that.” Maybe. “What do you play again?”

“The guitar. You should hear me riff. I’m actually going to get back into it. Maybe record an album or something.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Totally self-taught,” he continued, loving the sound of his own voice. “I got a guitar one year for Christmas and just never put it down. I was considered a child prodigy. I’m really good.”

“Wow,” I muttered, digging the keys out of my purse as he paused to take a breath and down the rest of his spritzer.

“Looks like I’m in need of a refill,” he said, laughing to himself. “I’ll be right back, I’ll get the link for the video.” I watched him walk back into his apartment, leaving the door slightly open. I made my mad dash through my own, stumbling over the grocery bags before I closed it behind me, making the great escape. I wanted to high five myself. I didn’t think I’d said a full sentence and I was exhausted. Moving to the kitchen, I started bopping my head to the sound of Jamie’s fuck you mom and dad music. She was still angry about her… predicament.

After putting the groceries away and ignoring the few calls of my name from the hallway, I stood in front of Jamie’s half closed door, pushing it open so I could see her. I watched as she furiously cleaned every surface and as the song died down I became the funniest bitch I know. I started a loud slow clap from the doorway. She looked up at me. “Do you get it? I’m clapping for you because you have the clap.”

“Yes, I’m aware of what you’re doing, THANK YOU.” I laughed as she whipped the closest stuffed animal at me. “I’m never going to live this down, am I?”

“No, that’s what happens when you’re a dirty skank.”

“You should know.” She slumped down on her mattress fighting a smile. “Come cheer me up and tell me about how you didn’t get an STI Friday night, you still haven’t told me how the date went.”

Sitting down beside her I huffed out my own sigh. “Well, to make a long story short, it wasn’t great.”

“That’s disappointing, he was hot. What happened?”

“Um, I got there, he was amazingly hot. Even better looking than his pictures. Asked me if I wanted to just go up to his apartment, and when your vagina screams YES, you need to listen.”

“Agreed.”

“So we went up to his condo, which was impressive I might add, we had a few drinks, then we started making out. And girl, I have not made-out with someone in so long and it was so good. But then it took a dark turn.”

“Uh-oh.”

“He started kissing my neck and I started to feel things, then he dropped his pants, and then the feelings went away. And I didn’t think you could actually feel something past nothing, but you can, because not only was my engine not hot, it wasn’t even lukewarm when his was ready to go and taking off. Didn’t even give a girl a chance. Then I blinked and it was over and he actually asked me, actually asked me if I needed to go clean up.”

“No!”

“Yes. So what the hell am I supposed to do with that?”

“What did you do?” she asked, outraged on my behalf.

“I got up and went to the bathroom, went through his medicine cabinet and stuff, contemplated masturbating my frustrations out, didn’t. Then after a minute or two I came out, got dressed and told him I was leaving.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it. That’s all the fat lady sang.”

“What a waste of a good face,” Jamie sighed, dramatically.

“Totally agree. He made sure I had his number though, said ‘we should do it again sometime.’ Maybe I’d use it if he was the last man on earth and my goal was not to have an orgasm.”

“I wonder if he’s ever heard of foreplay. I really hope he doesn’t think that the kissing of a neck is foreplay.”

“He’s a taker for sure, definitely not a giver. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a trail of disappointed females in his past.”

“Do you think he’s scared of the P?” P meant pussy.

“Well damn, it’s not some evil overlord. And I got that shit waxed and everything.” I sighed. “What a waste.”

Jamie hummed. “Well you know what that means.”

“What?”

“You’ll just have to show it to someone who’s not afraid of the P and who is dutifully skilled in giving out orgasms.”

“Where do we find such a person?”

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Monday morning my arms were full with cardboard story boards as I walked into my boss’s office. “Set it up and show me what you came up with.”

I nodded and started setting them up on the tabletop before starting into my presentation. I proposed dutifully what I had slaved over for the entire weekend. I explained with confidence my ideas and plans and after thirty minutes and my final comments, I let out a deep breath and forced myself to stand upright instead of slumping into the chair beside me.

“I’m impressed.” I watched as she steepled her fingers against her lips. “I like it. We’ll move forward with this, you’ll present this exact proposal to Ben Davis on Friday.” And that was it, I was excused. I barely contained my squeal of joy, my every dream coming to fruition in a matter of one sentence. I suddenly became nervous, I had four days to prepare for the biggest presentation of my life and that same day happened to land on the day I was flying home. Damn I was going to be busy.

Monday night was reserved for Adam. Adam was tall and lanky with dark hair and dark glasses with the whitest smile I’d ever seen. Adam had asked me out earlier that morning and on my wave of good news, I rode it all the way to agreeing to meet for drinks after work. I ordered another beverage in hopes that the conversation might get better the more I drank. It didn’t. I put on my best smile as he droned on about himself and his job doing something with a computer or walking a dog, or something.

“So Maddie, tell me a little bit about yourself.” Oh, my turn to add to the conversation! “Tell me, how do you feel about pointed toe cowboy boots?” Check, please!

 

The next day I spent holed up in my cubicle, running over reports and facts and desperately trying to find perfection in a god damn PowerPoint presentation. Hearing my stomach grumble, I looked behind me through the window wondering when the hell the sun went down and how noon turned into seven o’clock. The office was suddenly eerily quiet as I was the only one left, did I even say goodbye to anyone? I jumped in my chair as my phone started ringing beside me. Recognizing the name on the caller ID I picked up. “Hello?”

“Oh good, I was hoping I would catch you. It’s Val.”

I smiled at her enthusiasm. “Hey Val, how’s it going?”

“Good. I received an email from Ben earlier this afternoon stating that you were the contact for the pitch on Friday. He just called and is requesting that the meeting be moved up an hour if that works for you.” I agreed, not actually hearing anything else she said beyond the fact that I was considered the contact for the pitch. Me. Not my boss, not her assistant, me. Fucking, me! It wasn’t until after I hung up the phone that I realized what she was calling for, the meeting. My stomach dropped; that would be cutting it close to my departure time. I shook my head, I couldn’t complain. It was a non-refundable flight but this was the beginning of my future. I just hoped I wouldn’t have to endure the wrath of an angry mother. And a dent to my bank account.

 

The day of the presentation I piled on the under eye makeup. I’d been up all night preparing, going over each slide and what I needed to say and now that I stood in the meeting room after dropping my luggage at my desk, I felt it all start to fade away. Damn you, nerves! My phone vibrating in my pocket made me jump.

You’ll do great! Kick some ass today!!!

I smiled at Jamie’s text message. Hers was followed by the rest of the girls in the group chat and damn, I loved my friends. I let out a calming breath.

“Are you ready, Maddie?”

I turned around and smiled at the woman who held my career in the palm of her hand. “Yes, definitely.”

“Good. Let’s go over some of your main points.”

After twenty minutes we both sat in our chairs checking our respective watches. Ben Davis would be arriving any minute. The phone rang in the boardroom and I closed my eyes at the caller ID.

“Hi Maddie, its Val, Ben’s assistant. He just called to tell me he’s running a little late – he should be there shortly though.”

“Okay great, thanks Val.”

“You’ll do great, he’s really looking forward to it,” she told me almost under her breath. That had to be a good thing, right?

“Thanks, Val. We’ll chat soon.” I turned to look at my expectant boss. “He’s running late, should be here soon.” She nodded and went back to whatever business had her attention on the cell phone in her hand – probably Candy Crush or Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. That shit was addicting. I did my best to hide my frustration, apparently I wasn’t so good at hiding the sigh that followed that frustration. She smiled, eyes still on the phone and I only assumed it was an understanding smile directed toward me. It could also have been because she achieved a new level in the game, it was anyone’s guess, really.

Finally, finally, Ben Davis decided to show up. Forty five minutes later. Welcome Ben Davis, thanks for gracing us with your presence. I was overcome with a sudden wave of nerves. I barely shook his hand before I moved to the front of the room and started immediately into my presentation. I could only concentrate on what was coming out of my mouth, making sure the words I was stringing together actually made sense. It was my first major presentation and there was no room for error.

When I finished, I stared at the screen letting out a slow breath. I felt sick with realizing how much was on the line. My boss’s laughter pulled me out of my fog and I watched as she slid her arm through his before staring at their retreating backs. Great. I fell into chair in front of me, looking up to the ceiling. I had no idea what to think, I only knew in that moment, I had to get my ass to the airport.

After cleaning up the meeting room, I went in search of my boss and her new best friend but both were gone. Beyond frustrated; I didn’t even get a ‘good job,’ no feedback, nothing. I felt defeated and I needed a damn drink. Grabbing my luggage, I stormed outside and hailed a cab. “To the airport, please.”

 

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” I asked the woman standing behind the counter. She handed me back my passport and ticket with a sympathetic smile.

“You’ve just missed your flight. But I’ve put you on standby for the next flight out which is in two hours.”

I scrubbed a hand over my face, putting on a fake smile. “Can you tell me where the nearest bar is, please?”

Sipping on my second drink, I pulled out my phone and sent a text message to the group chat explaining everything including my current circumstance. As I pressed send I realized I’d missed an earlier one. Rolling my eyes at the name on the screen, I promptly ignored the text from sexy small dick. I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life right now.

An hour passed and my frustration was waning in the wake of my inebriation. A little kid sat across from me in the waiting area and continued to stare at me. No smile, no facial gesture whatsoever, just staring. Stone cold. I could smell the stink of his judgement from where I sat. I watched as his mom stood to get them a juice from the nearest concession. I swore I heard the challenge of a staring contest. Bring it on, kid! I stared back at him and like a ninja, he maintained his unyielding expression. I took a daring chance at this stage in the game and crossed my eyes, puffing out my lips at the same time. I watched his smile almost break – yes, I had him, I knew it. I stuck out my tongue and in that moment he knew he’d lost as he silently laughed. Success! I started laughing to myself at how great I felt beating an eight year old at some imaginary game. My phone started to ring from inside my purse. I frowned when I didn’t recognize the phone number. “Hello?”

“Hi, is Madison there please?” Oh no, full name, I should have never picked up. Maybe I could pretend it was the wrong phone number, could I pull off a Spanish accent? Who am I kidding, no, I almost failed Spanish in seventh and tenth grade.

“Speaking.”

“Hi Madison, its Ben Davis.” Oh shit, Ben Davis, the same Ben Davis I just gave a presentation to. The same Ben Davis that walked out without saying a word. Was he calling to berate me about what I’d put together for him? He sounded young, really young. Now that I’d thought about it, I couldn’t even picture him. I had been so nervous that I’d kept my focus on the screen and what I was saying, I hadn’t actually looked at him. I’d only really looked up and watched his retreating back as my boss threaded her arm through his. I could picture his suit, nice, expensive, fitted. And a head of dark hair.

“Hi Mr. Davis.”

“Oh no, Ben, please.”

This was not the right time to be talking to this man. I was coming off a high from my big staring game victory, plus I was half drunk on watered down vodka tonics. “Ben.” Just then an announcement over the speakers stating it was time to start boarding the next plane. Of course it wasn’t my plane, but a plane just the same.

“You’re at the airport?” Gee Captain Obvious, what gave it away? Okay so maybe I was still harbouring some resentment.

“I am.”

“Picking people up or heading out?”

Not that it’s any of your business, but, “heading out.”

“What time is your flight?”

What was this, twenty questions? “Well, I’m not sure. I’m on standby because I missed my earlier flight?”

I heard him curse under his breath. “Because of me? Shit, now I feel like a complete asshole. I’m so sorry.”

How did I answer and not offend a potential new client? “It happens.” Lame. His voice was warm, commanding but I didn’t think the apology was forced, he sounded genuinely like he felt like shit. Good.

“How about I make it up to you?” If it were anyone else, I would have thought he was flirting with me and I would have come back with some sassy reply. Before I could answer he continued, clearing his throat. “Since we’ll be working together.”

“We will?” I felt my stomach flip flop.

“Yes, no one has told you the news, obviously.”

“What news?”

“Madison.”

“Maddie, please.”

“Alright, Maddie, I thought your presentation was great and exactly what we are looking for. I was just calling to say thank you and to apologize for monopolizing your afternoon. I also wanted to ensure you had my personal cell phone number.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was over the moon. “I… thank you.”

“No, thank you. And I apologize again for today. We’ll touch base again next week. Have safe flight.”

“Yes, thank you.” Jesus did I not have anything else to say, apparently I only knew two words around this man, thank and you. God, when had I turned into a damn parrot? I needed another drink.

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

By the time I stepped off the plane, the moon was high in the sky and I was starting to suffer from a same day hangover. My mom was leaning against her car as I emerged through the sliding doors. A giant smile grew across her face as she saw me before she enveloped me into a massive, breath stealing hug. The short drive home was quiet and as I walked into my childhood home my mom looked at me and said, “You look tired, sweetheart. And you smell like a bar. Go get some rest, and take a damn shower.”

“No need to tell me twice,” I grumbled.

I woke up to the smell of pancakes and bacon. I stretched and searched through the fog in my brain realizing where I was. I also remembered that I was no longer a lowly office peasant, I was now a Marketing Executive with my very first major client. I had specific goals for the future; I wanted my own boutique agency, just something small and Ben Davis was my stepping stone to get there. I was a hard worker and I vowed to put everything I had into his campaign no matter what it took.

My stomach forced me to take the stairs two at a time to get to the salivating smells coming from the kitchen. I found my grandmother sitting at kitchen table drinking mimosas. Although it wasn’t an overly unfamiliar sight, I still had to laugh. “Really Mimi, it’s not even 11 yet.”

She looked up with a smile. “And? It’s juice. Plus, we’re celebrating.”

“What are we celebrating?” I asked, sitting across from her. My mom, bless her heart, put full plate in front of me.

“Your big presentation.”

“But you don’t know how it turned out,” I argued, stuffing a forkful of pancakes into my mouth. All ladylike and shit.

“It doesn’t matter how it turned out, sweets, we know how hard you worked on it and you’ve had a rough go over the past month. You need a mimosa and pancakes and bacon.” She frowned as I could only nod around the disgusting amount of food in my mouth, taking a sip of the liquid gold in a champagne flute.

“Thanks mom,” I finally managed. “Well, just so you know, the presentation went very well and I got a personal phone call last night saying that he was impressed and what I brought to the table was exactly what he was looking for.” I winced at the squeals that erupted and at the happy dance that followed.

“I knew it! I knew you would do it. I’m so proud of you honey.”

After breakfast, I climbed the stairs sluggishly to my bedroom. As I fell onto the bed, I stared around my childhood room. So many memories flooded as I looked across at some of the gymnastic medals still hanging from the wall, the photos still taped to the mirror. Most of them were of me and my childhood friends, some of my mom and Mimi, but there was one that caught my eye, one that for some reason I couldn’t remove when I was younger. It was a photo of me, my mom and my dad, when my parents were still married. Their break up was hard but necessary. As a kid, you don’t understand adult problems but looking back, I wondered if they were ever truly happy together. It was a tough divorce, old resentment and new angers clashing to make one giant shit pile. That shit pile created such a wedge between them that even now, a civil conversation was like pulling teeth. I always watched what I said to my mom about my dad and vice versa in fear of saying the wrong thing. I’d wished, prayed some nights that my parents still got along, that they would still be able to be cordial even if just over the bond of the child they shared, but they weren’t, couldn’t. My dad had moved and lived in so many cities since they’d broken up I’d lost count and his idea of speaking on a regular basis was holiday text messages. Wistful melancholy filled the slow breath I let out. It was a month before Christmas and I always flew home for our annual Christmas shopping extravaganza weekend. We put up the tree, drank hot chocolate, strung lights, the works. When my dad left we started new traditions and I loved them.

I lifted my head at the knock on the door. “Ready to get the party started?” Mimi asked, shimmying her shoulders.

“Yes, let’s do it.” I got up and she handed me a travel mug. “What’s in it?”

“Hot chocolate.”

“And?”

“And… Baileys.”

After day of shopping and picking out the most imperfect Christmas tree, we hummed along to the Christmas songs playing on the radio as we hung the decorations. “So, how have you been doing?” my mom asked.

“With what?”

“Without, you know who.”

“Good riddance,” Mimi piped in.

I laughed. “I’m doing good, Mom.”

“Anyone new yet?”

How to answer the tricky question. “I’ve been on a couple of dates,” if you could call them that. What does one call meeting a guy just to have sex – a botty call? Even if you don’t know them? I need to Urban Dictionary this shit. “No one worth mentioning.”

“You know I told you, my friend Marg, she has a grandson in San Francisco. He’s some big hot shot business man. Very successful. I could get his phone number for you.”

“No offence Mimi, but hell no. Everyone is a big hot shot business man, do you know what that means in today’s world? It means he sits on his dilapidated couch that he found behind a dumpster all day and sells all of his belongings on Craigslist while attempting at online poker. And then when he takes you out on a date, it’s for a picnic on the beach which would normally be a romantic gesture until you find out that it’s the only thing he can afford and you’re the one who has to bring the food.”

“Well, that’s really unfortunate.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Sounds like you’re speaking from experience,” Mom murmured.

“Something like that.”

“Well, I’m sure that’s not the case. He really is quite successful,” Mimi continued.

“Okay, I’ll pretend to believe you, if you just drop it.” Mimi held up her hands in surrender. Case closed.

The next afternoon I said goodbye to my mom and Mimi. It was always a bittersweet moment. I hated leaving home, always worried about the two of them, but I was happy to go back to my life in San Francisco. They were two different worlds but I loved them just the same.

Waiting for my flight, that I was on time for, my thumb was getting a cramp swiping left on the majority of the dudes that were online. I opened my messages, only replying to the two cutest.

Refreshing the feed, I started to scroll again, finding one that was an absolute douche. His profile was only shirtless pics of his hairless chest. One included flexing bicep as he held a fish. What the hell, I messaged him, laughing at myself. Why did guys think that was sexy? Fish aren’t sexy… hold up a trophy that you won for best helicopter tongue and I’ll be impressed.

Five hours later and by the time I walked through the door on Sunday night, I had three different dates this coming week. On a roll, hussy!

 

CHAPTER TEN

Monday was busy and uneventful at work. I’d started, petal to the metal, on the campaign for my new client. Swanky. Monday night however, was dedicated to Carlos. Carlos who was a liar and came up short in more ways than one. Carlos’ profile said he was 5’11. Carlos was probably 5’7 on a good day. Regardless, he’d chosen a nice restaurant and I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Mistake number two. He’d kept his phone on the table, laughing at whatever text messages were coming through and not bothering to share the humor. I liked humor, everything about me said I liked humor, I was a fucking blast that screamed humor. I also like sharing, something Carlos was too self centered to realize. Too far into it to run, I decided to order one of the martini specials. “You better be careful with that.”

I stared at him, biting the inside of my cheek as the server waited with her pen and paper at the ready. “And why is that?”

“There’s a lot of sugar in those drinks. A lot of alcohol too, maybe you should order a water as well.”

I turned to the patient woman waiting to take our order who now looked horrified. “I’ll take two, hold the water,” I told her with a sickly sweet smile. She laughed silently to herself as she walked away, Carlos too involved in his phone again to realize what was actually going on.

Thirty dreadful minutes later I’d clearly entered some alternate realm as I watched myself, nauseated, nodding when he asked me if I wanted to go back to his place. Maybe Carlos was right about one thing, they did make those martinis strong. Maybe our server felt sorry for me. If that was the case, I would definitely bring terrible dates here more often. Free dranks!

I’d woken up with a pounding headache in a strange bed. Turning to my left I groaned. Damn it. Rationalizing, I told myself it seemed the standard was sleeping with someone on the first date, how the hell else were you supposed to find out if they were the one or not? He wasn’t the one. Carlos woke almost immediately as I shifted. “Morning,” he mumbled.

“Morning.”

Rubbing his eyes, he stretched beside me. “What time is it?”

“6 am.”

He yawned. “Breakfast?”

Why the hell not.

The dumpy café was busy and after me, Carlos and his phone sat in silence over plates of eggs and bacon, the bill sat between us on the table. Wiping his mouth with the napkin and throwing it to his side, he cleared his throat. “We going to split it?”

God damn it, Carlos. “No.” I slid out of the booth and grabbed my jacket, walking out of the restaurant and leaving Carlos and his phone behind. Cardinal rule, never sleep over.

Wednesday night was dedicated to Luke. Sexy, sexy Luke. There wasn’t a lot to Luke but his face was positively lickable and his body, there were no words. I’d decided Luke was going to last more than one date. Mostly because Luke was really pretty and because on my date with Luke, I didn’t have to be concerned with talking about today’s news headlines or what party he’d voted for in the last election. Not because we didn’t want to have heavy conversations but because he didn’t know how. We could talk about how much weight he’d bench pressed at the gym and how sexy he thought I was and we were good.

“We’re going to see each other again right?”

“I’ll think about it,” I teased him as he walked me to my door.

“I’ll call you.”

“You better.” I was positively giddy as I ended my date. Luke definitely wasn’t the one, but he was fun. And fun felt great.

Friday night was reserved for Wes. Wes didn’t have a car, so I picked him up – at a gas station. Surprisingly I didn’t feel bad that this was my third date of the week even though I’d received a text from Luke earlier asking what my plans were for this weekend. Luke was hot, but I wasn’t putting all of my eggs in that one sexy basket. I’d done that already and it had bitten me in the ass. Wes was a drinks and a movie date. Luke was pretty, Wes was rugged; tall, dark and handsome type. Wes was a bad boy in a leather jacket and a devilish smile. We sat down for drinks and I found myself enjoying the conversation. He certainly was a talker but he wanted to know about me. We’d talked about everything; I’d told him about where I’d grown up and how I ended up in San Francisco. I’d asked him if he had any upcoming travel plans. It was a question that should have never been voiced. Where the hell was Doc and his time machine when you needed him? That’s when Wes dropped a bomb. “Oh, I can’t travel out of the country.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Okay, why?”  Why did I insist on asking questions? Damn it, Maddie – shut your fricken mouth!

“Well,” he started. And that’s when I learned he was on probation, the official name of the charge – armed robbery of a financial institution.

“So you’re a bank robber.”

“Something like that.”

“And you got caught?” I asked, morbidly curious.

“That time I did,” he told me with a grin that did something to my down under. I didn’t know why, I should have run for the hills, but I couldn’t. I wanted him even more, naturally. We traded in our drinks for the movies, choosing one neither of us were interested in. The theater was empty. I followed him to the back row and as the movie started, I couldn’t think of anything but the growing tension between us. He obviously felt it too as he grabbed my face for a hot and heavy make out session and before I knew it I was in his lap with my pants around my ankles, all classy like. I didn’t give a fuck what it looked like, it was by far and wide, the best sex of my life – and it was in a movie theater. I must have blacked out for a minute, because, god damn. When I came up for air I looked around, I was insanely grateful that we were still alone. If anyone had come in, I wouldn’t have noticed and they would have had a hell of a show along with whatever movie was playing on the screen. I should have been ashamed. I wasn’t, not even a little bit. “Are you alright?” he asked, kissing the back of my neck.

I laughed. “Who knew? This has turned out to be a very surprising evening.”

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

I sat in the waiting area of Ben Davis’s office Monday morning. I’d received an email over the weekend asking for a meeting and here I was. It would be interesting; I remembered how nervous I was at the presentation and the phone call afterward. Maybe we needed a fresh start. He was just another person and he seemed decent on the phone. And we had to work together, he was my new client which meant it didn’t really matter how I felt about him.

I arrived to the office early and brought his assistant, Val, a coffee. Luckily she was there and we were finally able to meet in person. We’d talked so many times on the phone and via email it was nice to be able to put a face to the voice. She was young, about my age, fun, bubbly, even for a nine o’clock meeting. “You are a life saver, Maddie. I didn’t have time to stop by the coffee shop on the way in. I owe you.”

“No, it was my pleasure. I’m just happy that we are finally getting together.”

“Same, it’s so nice to actually talk to you in person.”

Before we could chat any further the man himself walked through the door. With barely a smile he breezed through. “Maddie, good morning. I’ll be right with you. Val,” he greeted with a nod. He was formal, young, more attractive than I thought or remembered but he was clearly all business, almost stuffy. I looked over a Val with silent questions. She shook her head with a smile.

“Is he always so chipper?” I whispered.

She clamped her lips together to stop from laughing. “Usually only on Monday mornings.”

Of course. “I wonder what karma I’m paying for now,” I muttered.

“Maddie, please, come on in,” he beckoned from his office.

I sat on the edge of one of the chairs in front of his large desk. I looked around, his office was damn gorgeous. I would eventually need to get the name of his interior designer. Looking back to Ben, I was tense and I knew I looked tense. I did my best not to squirm.

“I hope I didn’t take away too much of your weekend,” he started, referencing his impeccable timing last time we’d met.

“No, it was fine, thank you.”

“Good. I asked you here because I wanted to provide to you my ideas, what I had envisioned for this campaign and I want your honest opinions as to whether you think you can both incorporate them into what you have previously provided or if you think they are even worth it.”

“I can do that,” I told him, feeling more confident as the meeting went on.

For the next hour he talked and I either agreed or disagreed with his ideas. “Look, I understand why you’re pressing for this but it just won’t work. It’s not going to provide the results you’re wanting it to. It’s not realistic.”

“I need for it to be realistic, Maddie,” he argued. “I’m counting on you to make this work.”

I took a deep breath and nodded my head telling him I would try even knowing my workload was just doubled. I’d put together a presentation of what he wanted and I would do another of what he needed showing him just how right I was.

As I was leaving, I stopped by Val’s desk. “Listen,” she started. “I wanted to give you my personal cell phone number in case you need anything after hours and Ben isn’t available.”

“Thank you, I appreciate that. I’d actually love to bounce some ideas off of you sometime if you’re free for coffee or drinks. My treat.”

“Sure, anytime,” she agreed with a smile.

Leaning my head against the wall of the elevator, I let out a heavy sigh suddenly feeling exhausted. I was finding that all of my interactions with Ben Davis left me more frustrated than when I went in. I didn’t know why I was letting him get to me. I needed to keep a cool head and show him what he needed instead of telling him.

That night I got home late, well after the sun went down. Turning the corner, I found Darryl sitting outside on the front steps. He was in the same sweatpants he’d been wearing for the past week and a t shirt that was more shredded than my dignity. He had a drink beside him, some sort of pink drink, still in a mason jar. Exasperated with my Monday, I actually joined him.

“What’s on tap tonight?” I asked him, motioning to his glass.

“Cosmo.” I wasn’t surprised. We sat in silence for a few long minutes, watching the late rush hour traffic. “Did you get a chance to look up my video on YouTube yet?”

Shit. “Yes, it was awesome. Very impressive.” I lied. I hated lying.

“Thanks, I appreciate that. Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, why not.”

“Do you date, Maddie?”

“Yeah, I date. Sometimes.”

“I need to start dating again,” he said, nonchalantly.

“You should,” I encouraged, although I didn’t know why.

“It’s hard for me though, women, they just get so attached to me. And I don’t know if I want that, I think I might just want to play the field a little, you know?” I really wanted to live in his world sometimes, just to experience it.

“I hear ya.” He started humming beside me, letting the conversation drop away and it was then that I realized maybe he wasn’t so creepy, he was more lonely than anything. Well, still creepy.

Later that night I received a text from Wes. I sighed with a weary smile. Wonderful, sex god Wes. I knew I couldn’t see him again, bank robbers were off limits, unfortunately. Instead of answering, I called Luke. “Are you free on Thursday?”

“For you? Of course.”

Excellent.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

Thursday night I met Luke after work at the apartment he shared with his roommate. He ordered food for us from someplace he insisted on down the street. It was my treat, I insisted. I don’t know why, I was trying to be nice, expecting him to refuse. He didn’t. As the food arrived, he brought me my favourite drink, vodka tonic with two slices of lemon. “You were paying attention.”

“I was,” he grinned. Luckily the roommate wasn’t home and we could be as loud and naked as we wanted. Unfortunately I was more naked than I was loud. The sex was okay, not as good as I remembered. I got up off his bed feeling the need to pull on my pants – I’d learned my lesson with the Carlos incident. I hadn’t even gotten my jeans over my hips when he asked, “Are you on birth control?”

I stopped what I was doing. “No, why?”

“Are you planning on going on birth control?”

“No,” I said slowly. “Why?”

“Because I don’t want to wear condoms anymore,” he stated, almost as if I should have known the answer.

“Excuse me?” I pulled back trying to make sense of what he was saying. “I made my ex-boyfriend wear condoms the entire time we were dating and that was for five years.”

“So what are you saying? That you don’t trust me?”

“No I don’t fucking trust you! We’ve been seeing each other for five minutes, how do I know you’re not sleeping with other people?”

“I’m not.” He actually had the audacity to look offended.

“Yeah, okay, let’s pretend we believe that. Then how do you know I’m not sleeping with other people?” he didn’t know what to say. I continued, “Regardless, you want to fuck me, you wear a condom. That’s the rule, my friend. Unbreakable.” I finished getting dressed and stormed into living room wanting to be away from him. I sat on the couch, pissed. He sauntered out of his room, taking his sweet ass time as he buttoned up a shirt he’d thrown on.

“So what, you’re upset now?”

Nice. Now? I just wanted to leave. “Do I look upset to you? No, I don’t get upset, I’m pissed. And I’m leaving.”

“Listen, I don’t want you to leave pissed, it was just a question. Let’s forget it okay?”

“Fine, but I’m tired. I have to get up early in the morning.”

“Okay, but before you go, I wanted to ask you something.”

“What?” I asked, exasperated.

“Um, well, you know how I just got back from the Dominican. That trip kind of took a toll on me and I was wondering if I would be able to borrow some grocery money?”

Up to this point, I would have said no had someone asked me if I was a violent person. I stared at him, flexing my fists, waiting for him to say he was joking. He wasn’t. I really wanted to laugh it was so outrageous. Seriously, his dick was not good enough to ask me that question. “Yeah sorry, fresh out of cash – spent it all on your dinner tonight.” I turned to leave. “Oh and Luke?”

“Yeah?”

“Lose my number.”

Driving away, I pulled out my phone and broke the law. I texted my girlfriends – one hand on the wheel, one desperately typing this ridiculous nightmare. In caps lock.

Friday I was still riding my rage and apparently it was obvious. Saturday morning I work up to a message: wake up bitch, we’re going on an adventure.

My girlfriends were waiting on my front steps as I walked outside an hour later. “Care to tell me where the adventure is taking us today?” I was promptly handed a fanny pack and a disposable camera. “What the hell is this?” It was then I realized they all had the same.

“Today, we explore our great city. Today we are tourists,” Lisa told me proudly.

“And if we don’t hurry, we are going to miss our ride,” Angela chimed in. I laughed, my friends were idiots and I loved them. We walked down the street and there waiting for us and twenty five other people was a red double decker bus. By the end of the day I had a sweet ass tan, a camera full of goofy photos and a smile.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

I realized I needed to kiss a lot of frogs before I found my prince and I wasn’t going to give up because of bank robbers or guys who couldn’t afford their own groceries. Although I’d never met so many entrepreneurs in my life. Everyone was an entrepreneur these days – the club promoters, the MLM companies, the sub-contractors; what they didn’t realize was being an entrepreneur wasn’t impressive anymore if you still lived with Mommy in her basement and she did your laundry.

Before we’d even gone out, I’d received a text message: Send me a good night pic, babe.

Clearing my throat, I started my reply: I’m sure asshole is one of your best qualities, unfortunately I’ve reached my quota… for my life, but good luck to you and sweet dreams.

Sunday evening my sexter was back and oh what a joyous night it had become. Closing my bedroom door, I locked it behind me and got comfortable on my bed. Let the festivities begin. I loved the mystery, the taboo behind it all. And when I started to receive intimate photos of him, I did something I never thought I would do. I saved them in my phone for tougher times to come. It was a pathetic move, but necessary. In turn, the combination of his words and my hand were some of the best sexual encounters of my life.

Tuesday night was dedicated to Zack. He took me to an art gallery and showed me how bougie he was as he described each painting with an air of confidence. Naturally I dropped my panties for him. Well I would have had I been wearing any. It was very hard to resist all that education packed into a well fitted pressed suit. I would have told him that we didn’t even need to go to the gallery, but he wanted to show off and I wanted to let him. The suit and education were stripped away and replaced by a mattress on the floor. On the floor. Well, this was a new one for me. It got worse. Anticipated excitement filled me as he moved to stand and pulled me so I was sitting on the edge of the bed. And then it happened. He slapped me. In the face. With his dick. WITH HIS DICK. “Now tell me you want it, dirty girl.”

I was shocked and horrified then outraged all in the matter of one second. When he moved to do it again, I grabbed his wrist and raised an eyebrow. “Come on babe, we’re just having some fun, go with it.”

“I’m not, nor will I ever be going with you slapping me. With anything.”

“Are you sure? It’s a huge turn on for me.”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay. Lay back, let Daddy take a good look at you.” Oh god, I couldn’t do this.

“How about less talking. Quiet time, now.”

But he didn’t listen. Daddy didn’t listen. “Tell me how much you like it.”

What if I didn’t like it? Why do guys always assume? “Um…”

“Wait for it… wait for it. Oh god, you’re so dirty. I’m going to come. Get ready, get ready. Get on your knees, I want to come on your face.”

Oh hell no! I pushed him off me, grabbed my jeans and left, shoes in hand. I heard him calling after me, I didn’t stop. I ran for the damn hills. Holy sweet baby Jesus hell.

 

I met Ben for a lunch meeting at a new restaurant downtown. He was still tense and stuffy, maybe his pants were too tight. We talked about my progress and any changes he wanted to make. As he excused himself to use the restroom, I checked my phone in an effort to make it seem like I wasn’t sitting at the table alone, like one does, when I saw I had an unexpected text message. It was a one liner from the person I was least expecting, my dad. ‘I’m going to be in town, let me know when you’re free.’ I was still staring at the screen when Ben came back. It was becoming clear I was terrible at hiding my feelings.

“Hey, everything okay?”

“Yeah,” I started. Then shook my head, “no,” I admitted. I found myself suddenly telling him my entire sad, sordid life story. Well a condensed version, anyways. I looked up at him and he was looking at me with a sympathetic smile and it was then I realized I’d crossed a line. This wasn’t any of Ben’s business nor did he need or want to be hearing about any of my family drama. I cleared my throat, and dutifully apologized before changing the subject immediately hoping he would play along and pretend I didn’t just lose my mind.

 

His profile said he was twenty nine, tall with dark hair and blue eyes. When I gave him my phone number he called me. He actually called me. We had a real conversation, over the phone, not through emoji’s or dick pics, it was a revelation. He asked me out and I agreed. And he was really cute. Sitting across from him, I ordered a dirty martini and he ordered… a coke. “You’re not drinking?” I dared to ask.

“Me, no.”

“Can I ask why?” He only shrugged. I wasn’t used to guys not drinking on a date, usually it was a competition to see who had the best beer goggles. It was refreshing. He was sweet and almost innocent and I agreed to go back to his place. Because what was I going to say? No? Laughable. It was becoming clear I didn’t know how to use that word. He opened my door and took my hand and I was almost smitten as he caressed my palm with his thumb until I looked up and read the sign that read Welcome to San Francisco University. I felt my steps falter. Oh god, maybe he was just a really old student, or he was an RA or maybe he worked here, please let him work here. “Are you a professor?”

He looked at me, an entire array of emotions flashed through his eyes. “Um, no.”

“Teachers assistant?” When he didn’t answer, I felt myself start to panic. “RA? Janitor?”

“No, I’m a student,” he admitted. He stopped and I pulled my hand away. “Alright, I’m not quite 29.”

“Not quite,” I repeated. “What exactly does ‘not quite’ mean?” I could see him contemplating his answer. “What year are you in?”

“What?” he asked, confused.

“What year of university are you in?”

“First.”

“First?” I yelled. “So that makes you…”

“18,” he said, finishing my sentence.

I felt like I needed to put my hands on my knees, oxygen seemingly lax in this moment. “Um. Okay,” I started, rationalizing out loud. “When did you turn 18, like are you almost 19?” I don’t know why this question made sense or mattered but nothing made sense to me in this moment.

“A couple weeks ago, I skipped grade ten, I’m really smart.” He was talking really fast, no doubt feeding off my sheer horror with every word he spoke.

“What the fuck, dude?”

“I like to date older women,” he tried to explain. “And when they find out my age they think I’m too young.”

“Yeah no fucking kidding. Jesus, you’re two weeks older than a fifteen year prison sentence.”  I ran my fingers through my hair feeling sick and old.

“Did you want to still come in?” he asked quietly.

I looked up at him. “Is that a serious question?” He nodded. “No,” I answered, slowly, “I don’t want to fuck you in your dorm room.” I turned and walked away. I needed a taxi, and a drink.

Luckily my friends were lushes and I met them for drinks after dropping the child off at home. I told them my embarrassing story and while they laughed, and cried, literal tears streaming down their faces at my circumstance, I found myself in a state of intoxication beyond what would be considered acceptable by a man who I was sure would look completely different if I were sober. Needless to say, I woke up in his bed. The next morning. Shit!

“Good morning, beautiful,” he greeted, cupping my cheek. No. Nope, I couldn’t do this. “So I was thinking, you, me, dinner tonight.”

“No,” I moaned.

“No, you’re busy tonight? Okay then, tomorrow night. And I was thinking, if you’re free on Sunday, my mom always does Sunday dinner at her place. The entire family shows up, it’s great. I’d love for you to come.”

“What? No. I gotta go.” Scrambling out of the bed, I bolted for the front door, rolling my eyes at the five inch heels that I chose to wear last night. Great choice, Maddie. How the hell are you supposed to run away in these? Oh god, these were not sober shoes. Why did I own these? I wondered what my chances were of getting hepatitis if I walked down the street in my bare feet. Flats were underrated.

“Hey, where are you going? I need to get your number so we can set up our next date. And let me know if your schedule opens up for the weekend. I really think my mom would love you.” I was still half drunk and I had a stage five clinger on my hands.

“I’ll call you,” I promised. It was one I would break.

“But you don’t have my number!” he called after me as I walked outside, the morning sun burning my retina’s. I waved my hand over my shoulder and performed my best Olympic speed walk in one of the sluttiest outfits I owned. Karma, that’s what I got for breaking my sleepover rule – the ultimate walk of shame and a horrendous hangover.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

Christmas came and went. It was quiet but nice to see Mom and Mimi again, even if it was just for a few days. After I’d come back to San Francisco from my mini vacation, Jamie barged into my room, dressed in a skirt and heels. She opened my closet and started rifling through my clothes, throwing an outfit on the bed. After being mesmerized by her for a few minutes I decided to ask, “What are you doing?”

“We’re going out, and you need something to wear.”

“Okay. Where are we going?”

She turned back to look at me, eyeing me up and down. “It’s a surprise.”

I raised an eyebrow and judging by her authority I knew regardless of my argument, I was going out.

Staring at myself in the mirror, I looked over at the bottles displayed on the top of my dresser. “I should probably put on some perfume. I feel like my natural scent is just alcohol now.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” Jamie asked, pulling on her heels.

 

We stood arm in arm in front of a restaurant I’d never been to before. “Come on, let’s go,” she said, pulling me inside.

“We’re going for dinner?” She didn’t answer. A woman stood at the entryway welcoming us with a warm smile and offering to take our jackets. Telling us where to go, we followed her directions and when we arrived at the Garden Room as she called it, I groaned out loud. “Are you kidding me?” Jamie grinned. “Retribution will be coming my friend,” I murmured as I bent down and wrote my name, grabbing a number to stick onto my shirt for our fun filled night of speed dating.

Luckily the women didn’t have to get up, only the men moved seats and judging by the coup, it was going to be a long night. I looked down at the paper in front of me, the one where I was supposed to decide whether they were a match or not. Jamie nudged me and nodded toward the door. Oh, and what do we have here? Two latecomers that may have just changed the game. Helloooo, there. New Years was only a few days away and when they turned and smiled our way, it looked like we might just have dates for the big night after all.

After an hour and a half, I’d sat through eighteen of the most mind-numbing dates of my life, if you could even call them dates, four minutes of forced smiles and nodding my head with each man. Until the game changer. “Hi, I’m Mark.”

“Maddie,” I returned, holding out my hand for a shake when he took my fingers and kissed the back of my hand. He was dressed in a nice suit as well as his friend, they looked like they just came from Wall Street, but he was cute and he had nice manners.

By the end of the night Mark had told me about a New Year’s Eve party he was going to and asked me to be his date. When she heard where it was, Jamie not so subtly elbowed me in the ribs. I told him only if my friends could come. He agreed with a smile and we exchanged numbers.

 

New Year’s Eve. Damn this night had so much hype around it, for a measly ten second countdown and it was all over, until the next year. My dress was sparkly and swanky and cut out in all the right places. My girlfriends and I decided that if we were going to pretend we were going to be classy for a night, that we might as well show up in style. Which was why we climbed into the limo that was taking us to the party. Mark and I had been texting and talking on the phone every day since the speed dating event. He’d told me he would meet me at the party and that he’d left our tickets at the door. We were already half drunk and the bottle of champagne sitting on ice in the back of the car wasn’t going to help. We’d already had a pre-cocktail, cocktail party. In my apartment. A chorus of squeals erupted as the car pulled up outside the venue, the spotlights and balloons shrouded what looked to be some of the wealthiest and ritziest of San Francisco. Fancy.

Once inside, my friends, the good friends they were, dispersed in every direction leaving me to go in search of my date, alone.

“Hey handsome.” I smiled as I walked up to him. He returned one of his own and grabbed my hand holding it in the air so I could do a little spin for him.

“Maddie, you look stunning.”

I tried not to blush. “Thanks, you’re not looking too bad yourself.”

“Come, let’s get a drink.”

As we stood at the bar, something didn’t feel right. He was speaking in one word answers, looking around the room at anyone but me. Okay, so Mark could be a dick. “Listen,” he started, cutting me off from what I was saying. “I’ve been thinking and I just really don’t know what I want.”

I frowned. “What?”

“I’m just confused, I’m in a weird stage in my life and I’m not sure what I’m looking for.”

Talk about confused, this girl right here. I had no idea what spooked him. When I asked, he said nothing for a long moment as he watched another girl walk past. I snapped my fingers in front of his face. “Nothing spooked me, definitely not you. I’ve never been more comfortable talking with anyone in my life I just – can’t deal with this in my life right now.”

“You’re making this more difficult than it needs to be. We’ve been talking for four days and we’re out at a party together. I’m not sure what it is that you can’t ‘deal with.’” As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt my stomach drop. “Ben Davis, shit.

“What?” Mark asked.

“Maddie, hi. I didn’t know you were going to be here,” Ben said as he approached from across the room.

“Hi Ben. Yes, was kind of last minute. This is Mark.”

Ben held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.” Mark nodded and returned the handshake. I didn’t know why but I suddenly felt extremely awkward. I turned to the bartender and ordered myself a double. Ben turned his attention to someone calling for it while Mark stood beside me, his elbows propped on the bar top behind him while he watched the rest of the party. After ten minutes Mark turned to me, “Do you really think you should be drinking so much, I can’t have my date being the lush of the party, you know? I have a reputation that I need to keep.”

I turned to him and if it were at all possible, I would have been spitting fire. “Then I’ll let you off the hook, I’m not your date anymore and you and your reputation can go fuck yourselves.”

He leaned in. “And to think I was going to take you home tonight.”

“And to think you actually had a chance of doing that. Bye.” I stood and stared at him, sipping my drink until he flared his nostrils and stormed away. Nice.

“You okay?”

Holy shit, Ben Davis, right beside me. “You heard that, huh?”

“Yep.”

“And that was my ride home,” I said to myself, taking a deep breath realizing how ridiculous that entire scene was. I watched Ben hold up two fingers to the bartender and before I knew it, shots were sitting in front of us, a slice of lemon on each.

“I can give you a ride home,” he said, holding up the shot glass. I couldn’t help but laugh, drama, drama, drama.

“Thank you.” I clinked his glass and threw the burning liquid down my throat. I told myself it was that last shot that threw me over the edge. I went from ‘no officer, I’ve had a couple but I’m just headed home, it’s only a couple blocks’ to ‘ma’am, hands behind your back, you’ll need to spend a night in the drunk tank’ and I knew it. I could not stop the verbal diarrhea if I tried. I heard myself telling Ben how I was so impressed by him; I was babbling like a schoolgirl with a crush and my sober self had never been so embarrassed in my life. Ben interrupted me, taking my hand and asked me to dance. Without waiting for an answer, he pulled me onto the dancefloor. And could the man dance. Oh god, what was I doing? I felt a crush coming on. I couldn’t have a crush on my client, damn it. He was so cute and such a gentleman after he’d heard Mark being a total asshole. Maybe he wanted me too, maybe we would ring in the New Year together and blur the lines of professionalism. It wasn’t like it was unheard of.

“Ben?” he stopped dancing at the sound of the feminine voice behind him and turned around.

“Hey, Sam.” He leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek. And there it was, the shattering of drunken dreams. Luckily my friends seemed to sense my discomfort in the presence of this gorgeous woman who Ben was obviously with.

“Ready to go?” Lisa asked cheerfully.

“Yes, definitely,” I told them.

“What? But it’s not midnight yet,” Ben interrupted.

“Thank you, Ben. For the dance, and for turning my night around.” As I turned to walk away, he grabbed my hand.

“Maddie?” I could see the look of confusion on his face and I was too drunk to comprehend what any of it meant.

“I’ll talk to you next week, okay?”

“If you’re not going to stay, at least take my car home.”

“I couldn’t possibly do that.” The woman, Sam, beside him looked bored by our conversation.

“Yes, you can. I owe you one, remember?”

I thought about it with a smile. “You’re right, you do.”

“It’s outside, I’ll let my driver know to take you and your friends wherever you want to go.”

“Thank you.”

“Happy New Year, Maddie.”

“Happy New Year, Ben.”

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

In the back of Ben’s limo, on the way back to my apartment we’d decided on ice cream and ringing in the New Year in pajamas. Jamie had struck out with Mark’s friend, who was also a super douche, apparently they all drank the super douche Kool-Aid.

“So, Ben certainly isn’t who you walked in with, yet we are leaving in his car, without him?” Beth pointed out.

I laughed. “Yeah, Ben’s my hot shot client.”

“Oh! Ben. Ben is fucking hot.”

“Yeah, a fact I didn’t quite realize until tonight.”

“I’m sorry, how did you not realize?” Lisa asked.

“I’m not quite sure, to be honest. But it doesn’t matter, he’s a client and he was there with some other girl.”

“What happened to what’s his name?”

“Oh, he turned out to be an asshole. I think I need to start dating women,” I mused.

“You should, it’s a lot of fun.” Beth winked at me making me giggle. Beth had always been open about her sexuality, she loved both the p and the d and she was probably the realest person I’d ever met. She always said she usually preferred girls, they were less complicated.

Back at apartment, unsurprisingly, we opened another bottle of champagne. Because if you’re not having champagne, you’re not doing it right. Or something. Jamie sipped her mug of bubbly (champagne flutes were overrated) and stared at me.

“Yes?”

“Listen, I just wanted to say, without you getting offended, that I think you may be stretching yourself a little thin in the man department.” I raised my eyebrow and challenged her to go on. I could feel Lisa, Angela and Beth’s eyes darting between the two of us. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“How many guys had you slept with when you were with your ex?”

“Three.”

“And what’s your number at now?” she asked.

“That’s two questions.”  She waited, the challenge directed back to me. I made a face at her. “I don’t know… like higher than three. Maybe like fifteen-ish.”

“Fifteen?”

“Something like that.” Beth snorted into her drink while Lisa and Angela both fell back into the couch cushions laughing hysterically. Realizing the new stats, I guess it was a bit of a jump.

 

The next morning I rolled over feeling like I had been run over by a truck. A garbage truck, a gigantic, smelly garbage truck. What the hell happened last night? Wincing at the pounding in my head, I groaned at the flood of memories, the party, the douche, the champagne, the Ben. My hand searched under the covers for my phone; pulling up Ben’s phone number, with one eye closed (it was easier to see the screen that way) I sent him a quick and completely back on the professional train, text message. ‘Thank you for the ride last night’

‘Anytime. Glad you got home okay.’

I’d apparently fallen back into a coma; when I’d woken a few hours later it was past lunch and I was damn hungry. I also had a new message on my phone.

‘Hey sexy, tell me you’re free tonight.’

My stomach dropped. It was Sexter. He wanted to meet up? We had never even talked about meeting up. I swallowed and bit my lip. Our conversations were always pleasurable (pun intended.)

I wrote back, ‘I am.’

‘Good answer. I had an idea, maybe a new experience?’

I held my breath, this could be anything. ‘And what did you have in mind?’

‘A club.’

I frowned. That didn’t sound too exciting. ‘A club?’

‘A sex club.’

Oh, hello! Holy shit, could I do that? Go to a sex club? What even happened at sex clubs? I chewed on my thumbnail as I contemplated. Why the hell not, a new year meant trying new things. ‘Okay.’

 

The club was dark, although I wasn’t exactly expecting blazing lights, they needed to set the mood, made sense. He’d made sure to keep an arm around me, sensing my apprehension. I looked around with wide eyes at the topless bartenders and swings set up in each corner. Swings, hanging from the ceiling. This would forever change my perception of my favourite childhood pastime. Grabbing us a drink, he ushered me to a large red velvet ottoman, there were a few set up as seating around the main room. “Just watch, if you want.” His voice was calm, reassuring. The drink was strong, whatever it was and I was glad for it. As I turned to ask him a question, a couple sat down with us, the woman beside me, her boyfriend beside Sexter. I felt my brows draw together as I watched him lean in and start making out with man beside him. He was so free, so open about it and no one in the room seemed to mind the very public display of affection. Now that I was looking around, I was almost the outsider not making out with someone. People were half naked, touching, kissing, caressing each other. It was a giant free-for-all. Oddly I was turned on watching him make out with a dude. I snapped my head around as I felt a soft touch stroking my leg. Before I knew it, her lips were on mine, her hand dragging mine to touch her. What the fuck was in that drink?

Two hours later I walked out of the club, my hair dishevelled, my head cloudy with confusion. I had no idea what just happened; did I just have sex with a girl? Whatever it was, I think I liked it.

I held my hand out for a taxi. Climbing into the back of the car, I bent over clutching my stomach, laughing hysterically at myself. What the actual fuck.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

Just as I was leaving work Wednesday evening, my phone rang. “So sorry Maddie, just found out that I have to head out of town tomorrow and I’ll have to cancel our meeting. Are you free at all right now?”

Ben Davis, ruiner of plans. How was I supposed to say no? I would have to tell my Wednesday night date that I wouldn’t be able to make it. “Um, yeah, sure.”

“Great, I’ll send you the address.”

I arrived at this cool coffee shop right around the corner from my apartment. I’d never seen this place in my life. I really needed to get out more.

I found Ben at a high table, still in his pressed pin stripe suit, his hair perfectly styled, not a single strand out of place. After brief greetings, I got right into it, assuring him that everything was on track for the launch next week. He agreed and went over a few details he’d wanted me to add in and instead of reaching over and strangling him, I simply smiled and nodded. As frustrating as he was, I still couldn’t believe the trust he’d put in me with this project. Our conversation was short, surely one that could have happened over the phone which would have allowed me to keep my date for tonight.

“So, did I pull you away from anything tonight?” He was joking, referencing the last time when he’d made me miss my flight.

“Nothing of importance,” I assured him.

“Oh my god, I really pulled you away from something?” I had to laugh at the apology in his eyes. I waved a hand in the air dismissing it. “Don’t tell me it was a hot date or something.”

This was starting to get a little less professional and a little too personal. “I don’t know if he was hot, I hadn’t met him yet.”

“I feel terrible,” he muttered, putting his hands over his face.

“You should, really. You probably just cost me one of my future husbands.”

He looked up at me with a small smile. “One of your future husbands?”

“Yes. My grandmother always told me, first marriage is for money, second is for love. We’ll never know which one he could have been.” He threw his head back laughing and I was starting to feel that Ben and I were becoming friends.

I excused myself to the bathroom and without realizing, left my phone on table. As I came back a few minutes later, Ben was wearing a sly smile. “What?” I asked, smoothing down my shirt.

“Your phone was going off, you received a bunch of notifications from some dating app.”

“You were going through my phone?” I asked to cover my embarrassment.

“Not going through, no. But I think you could probably start your own reality TV show with all of those suitors wanting your attention.” I covered my face feeling my cheeks flame.

“I should probably call Chris Harrison then, it’ll be the most dramatic season yet.” I loved that Ben laughed, getting my Bachelor reference.

When the night was over, I’d decided to walk and Ben insisted he walk me home. I wished him a safe flight in the morning.

“Who was that?”

I whipped around, throwing a hand over my heart. “Jesus, Darryl. You scared me.”

He smiled. “Sorry.”

“Just someone I work with. Why?”

“I’ve been thinking,” he started, ignoring my question. Nothing good ever came out of Darryl thinking. “You’re in marketing, right?”

How the hell did he know that? “Yes.” I pulled my keys out, making it clear I wanted to go inside.

“Well, I started my new album track list and I was thinking that when I got it recorded, that you could market it.”

“I don’t think you could afford me, Darryl,” I told him with a smile.

“You wouldn’t do it for free? You know, help a guy out? We’re friends.”

I had my hand on the doorknob. “No,” I confirmed before disappearing into my apartment. I meant my one word answer as a general blanket to every question and statement he’d just uttered.

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

When are you coming home next? Your grandmother is driving me crazy – next time you’re here we need to rearrange the living room furniture.

My mom was always changing something in her house. Every room had been redone, a silent effort to erase every part of my father in every nook and cranny. I had to give her props, what she’d done was beautiful and I had to admit I liked the current version of our home better than it had ever been. ‘Okay, why are we rearranging furniture?’ I replied.

‘It doesn’t have any fen sway going on’ she typed back with the praying emoji.

‘I see… need some of that fen sway around… or some Feng Shui – either one works.’

‘Don’t come at me with that negative energy. You knew what I meant, don’t be an asshole about it.’

I laughed. ‘Love you, Mom.’

‘Love you more.’

 

I looked through the peephole at who was knocking on my door. “Password,” I demanded. Beth held up a bottle of wine. I opened the door.

Sitting on the couch, Beth turned to Jamie and I. “I have a really good idea for tonight.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“Two words. Lesbian. Bar.”

I laughed. “Hey, I’m open minded.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” Jamie mumbled under her breath.

“Okay Glass House, thanks for your opinion.”

“Glass house? What have you been getting into, Jamie? Or should I ask who?” Beth asked, wagging her eyebrows.

“Yes Jamie, please tell us,” I teased. I looked at the invisible watch on my wrist. “Is it time to take your pills yet?”

“Oh!” Beth started. “Are we playing the Guess Your STI game? Is it one word or two? Permanent or no?” I laughed at her rapid fire questions.

“It’s not charades!” Jamie yelled before throwing a pillow at us and going to her room.

I turned to look at Beth who was inadvertently still playing. “One word, not permanent,” I finally answered.

“Chlamydia,” she guessed with confidence.

“Got it in one.”

“Yasss.” She high-fived my outstretched hand. “That was a fun game,” she mused, sipping her wine.

“Agreed, we should go to Hasbro with that shit.” We both laughed.

“So, lesbian bar?”

“Lesbian bar,” I agreed after considering the options. Maybe I could be with a girl, maybe there was a little lesbian inside of me – we’d find out at the end of the night (ba dum tss). Jamie passed, deciding to sulk at home.

In conclusion, lesbian bars were awesome. I was having the best time as Beth and I danced the night away. I saw her smile at the same time I felt hands come around my waist from behind. The girl moved her hips with mine as we swayed to the beat. When the song ended, I turned around realized how pretty she was. “Can I buy you a drink?” she asked, leaning in to speak over the music. And let’s be honest, I wasn’t one to turn down a drink.

We’d taken two shots at the bar before she leaned in and kissed me. I kissed her back, her lips soft, her tongue greedy. And I felt nothing. “I’m sorry,” I said, pulling away. I looked around and couldn’t see Beth anywhere. “I am so not a lesbian.”

“You sound disappointed,” she said, smiling.

“I am. I wanted to come here and try something different and I’m so sorry if I led you on. I thought, I don’t know what I thought. I’m an asshole.”

She had the decency to laugh, “You’re not an asshole. I get it.”

“Do you? I almost wish this wasn’t how I felt, you’re so hot and nice and you just don’t have a penis.”

“That I do not.”

“I really like penises,” I admitted.

“Come on, your turn to buy the drinks. You can be my wing-woman.”

“Done! I have a friend you know, she’s a lesbian. Well, she’s at least bi.”

 

It was the big launch for Ben’s company. I couldn’t remember ever been so stressed in my life. I needed everything to go well otherwise I would never be able to show my face again. I would need to find a cave and become a troglodyte.

It had been a long day and thankfully the campaign received a great response. Success! By the time I left the office, it had grown dark and I just wanted to fall into bed. I waved at the night security guard on my way out when I stopped at the sight of the black car sitting at curb. The door opened ominously and I felt like I was suddenly in Pretty Woman. Ben stepped out.

“What are you doing here?” I asked with a surprised smile.

“I was hoping we could grab a celebratory drink.”

“How long have you been waiting out here?”

“A while,” he admitted.

“Why didn’t you come upstairs?”

“I didn’t want to interrupt, plus I had some things to take care of anyways.” I didn’t know what to say so like an idiot, I twiddled with my fingers in front of me. “So, drinks?” he repeated.

“Sure.”

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

“Cheers, to a fantastic launch – hits have more than tripled. I wasn’t expecting such a massive reply.”

“I think that was supposed to be a compliment so I’m going to take it as one.”

Ben laughed. “It was meant as one.”

My phone vibrated on table. Remembering the last humiliation I decided not to even look at it, and put it away in my purse. “How’s it is going with the dating app?”

Damn it. I put on my best mockingly shocked face. I couldn’t believe he just asked me that question. I laughed. “I don’t know why they call it a dating app. It’s not dating. No one dates anymore, they don’t go out for dinner and drinks just to get to know someone or for good conversation. There is nothing that goes into choosing someone. You have to base your initial decisions on their photos because you know they just copied and pasted their ‘about me’ section from some blurb on the internet.”

“Is that what you did?”

“It doesn’t matter what I did,” I argued, fighting a smile. “Regardless, the first photo is usually blurry or half of their face and the second photo is a shirtless picture.”

“Naturally.”

“Yes, and then the third is some picture of them holding a fish, or a puppy or someone’s kid to make you think that they are a good guy, trusting but really, all you can hope for is that the rest of their face matches the first half and they marginally come close to the one witty sentence in their profile.”

“And do they?”

“Do they what?”

“Come close?”

“Haven’t found one yet.” He laughed, and I continued telling him about some of my recent stories. Toward the end of my tirade, Ben looked completely appalled which made me laugh even harder.

Feeling daring, I asked Ben about the girl at the party and if they were still together. He looked confused then realized what I was talking about. “Oh, Sam? We’re not together. No, we work together.”

“Are you sure she knows that?”

Ben laughed. “Yes, I am.”

We stared at each other for a long minute. “You’re a fun guy Ben Davis,” I told him, the celebratory drinks making me feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy.

“I am?” He looked surprised and I laughed.

“Yes, when you loosen your tie a little.” He instinctively reached up to find his tie loose around his neck causing him to frown as if he didn’t realize he’d tugged at it earlier. At the same time, his phone rang.

“I’m sorry, Maddie. I need to take this, I’ll be just a minute.” As he walked away, the sober part of me began a pep talk. I knew I was too drunk and he was still a client. The night was heading in the wrong direction, well beyond unprofessional.

“Well I should go,” I said as he got back to the table.

“Yeah, okay. Can I drive you home?”

“I don’t think either of us should be driving.”

“Well by me, I meant my driver.”

Of course you did. Who has a driver? “I can just take the subway home.”

“I won’t take no for an answer.” I raised an eyebrow at him, pursing my lips. As I stood to pull my jacket on, I looked him up and down making him chuckle. “Please.”

As I slid across the soft leather seats, I leaned in to tell driver my address. I could feel him looking at me as I stared out window. “I’m glad you’re happy with how today went,” I said into the quiet.

“More than happy. You’re brilliant and I couldn’t have hoped for anything better.” The silence stretched on. I opened the window, staring out at the white twinkling lights in the tree lined streets. I closed my eyes and smiled into the warm January breeze. As the car pulled up to my building, I got out and bent down to look into the still open window thanking him for ride. “Thank you for joining me tonight. I had a good time.”

“Me too,” I told him.

“I hope you get your real date soon ma-d85.” My jaw dropped. It literally dropped. Oh my god, he knew my screen name. “We’ll talk next week.” When I didn’t answer or move, he smiled. “I’m not leaving until I know you’re inside.” I blinked and turned. My mind was spinning as I climbed the stairs. Nothing made sense, none of it. Okay Universe, what did it mean?

Jamie wasn’t home. I grabbed a glass of water, feeling like I was on a mission. A drunken mission, but a mission nonetheless. Picking up my phone, my sober self slapped it away from me knowing the drunk texts were fighting to get out. And with sloppy questions to one business man who continued to get hotter by the minute. Oh god, that could have been bad, I thought as I gave my phone a dirty look. I quickly changed and jumped into bed with my laptop. I pulled up the dating site. I needed to find him, what was he doing on the dating site?

After an hour of searching I found nothing. Falling back onto the pillows behind me, I stared up at the ceiling. “Ben Davis… who are you?” I was starting to think there was more to him than just a stuffy, too busy business man. But what? And why did my vagina think so too?

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

I sat at my desk the next day, tapping my pen against my keyboard. At least it was Friday. My eyes burned with exhaustion. Why did girls do this? Why did girls torture themselves for hours at a time when there was probably nothing to it? So what if Ben knew my screenname? He probably did research on me before hiring me like any respectable business man would do. I held a huge account, one with his name on it and he was doing his due diligence. That’s all there was to it.

I’d thought about what he’d said last night, that I deserved a real date. At the same time, I looked at the text message that had just came through – a dick pic from Sexter followed by a winky face emoji. I started laughing, out loud. The kind of laughter that was unstoppable as tears fell down my cheeks. I dropped my head on my desk. Fuck you, life. Fuck you.

For the first time in a long time, I decided not to go out on a Friday night. Pulling on my comfiest pair of sweatpants, I threw my hair up and chose the sappiest chick flick I could find on TV. I needed something sweet; looking in the cupboards, we had no snacks. Of course. What we did have was ingredients. A result of those ingredients? A bowl of chocolate buttercream icing. I grabbed a spoon and the box of wine from the fridge and sat both on the coffee table. Let the fun begin.

Scrolling through Facebook during a commercial, I saw a post Aaron was tagged in. It was a post congratulating my ex-boyfriend on his expecting baby and engagement. I felt sick. I hadn’t thought about Aaron in months. The idea of him was always lingering, the idea of getting my revenge even more so, but this, this was a slap back into reality. I felt tears burn the back of my eyes. He wasn’t a one night stand for me, he was everything, someone I loved on some level, someone I moved away from my entire family for. He’d always made sure to use condoms and never wanted to talk about our future. The minute I brought up the idea of getting married it was shut down immediately. Now, he was getting married and having a baby with some bimbo he’d met two months ago. We were different people. Different than we were when he’d first asked me out, different than when I’d followed him to San Francisco and different than when he broke up with me over text message. Well, I was a different person, he was still an asshole.

Fuck this shit. I stared disgustingly at the bowl of icing in front of me. I chugged my glass of wine and grabbed my phone. Stage three – revenge. Again. It was a continuous loop now. I dropped my pants in the middle of my living room and did something I never thought I would do. I took a picture of my lady parts. Pulling up my messages, I sent the photos to Sexter. My lonely night turned into a night full of dirty photos and dirtier words. At the end of it, it didn’t make me feel any better. I fell into bed ignoring the ache in my chest and welcoming the hang over that was to come.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY

 

My Saturday night was dedicated to angry sex with the stranger I’d met at the bar around the corner from my apartment. The bar I’d gone to alone. I was on a mission and tonight, of all nights, all of my girls were busy and I sure as hell wasn’t going to sit at home by myself. We didn’t need to relive last night. So tonight, I was that girl. I couldn’t remember his name, Justin, Derek, something like that. He had a messy apartment; it stunk like a frat house and dirty clothes lay in the corner of his bedroom. He was snoring blissfully beside me. Me? I was empty. Everything about me was empty. Even the orgasm I’d just faked had been empty. I looked to my left at a nightstand that didn’t belong to me and there it sat, empty. How did I get here? When had I become this person?

I needed to leave. He wouldn’t even notice, the sounds coming from him were ones that would rival a freight train. I picked up my things and slipped from his apartment.

Jamie was home when I arrived. “What the fuck are you wearing?”

I looked down at myself, not recognizing the tattered shirt I had on. Shit, did I take this from his apartment? “I don’t know.”

“Where the hell did you get it? Behind a dumpster?”

“Let’s be real,” I told her, my words slightly slurred. “My last memory of this past twenty four hours is a bowl of icing. From yesterday. So I’m not ruling anything out.”

 

Everything felt foreign in my own bed, in my own apartment. I needed to go home. I remembered my mom had sent me an email about Mimi’s birthday party in two weeks. I booked my plane ticket.

At work on Monday, I called Ben’s office and spoke with Val. We’d made plans to grab a drink before I asked for Ben. “He’s unavailable right now, but I’ll let him know you called.” I didn’t know why I felt disappointed. As I hung up the phone, my computer lit up with a new email. My dad was in town and he wanted to meet for lunch. Today.

I met him at a swanky restaurant, one I’d never been to before. He looked good, had lost weight. Had he been tanning? He’d definitely gotten his teeth whitened. And there it started, the midlife crisis stage. I was only waiting for the twenty year old Instagram model with big boobs and blonde hair to walk in and introduce herself as my new step mommy.

“How are you, peanut?” he asked, pulling me in for a bear hug. I’d always felt like I needed to prove myself to my dad. He was an accomplished man and he held his standards higher than anyone I’d ever met. I proceeded to tell him about my latest successful project and some of the new ones my boss had thrown my way since. I’d gushed about my goals for the future and how this campaign and every one following only brought me closer to what I wanted. He’d told me what he’d been up to, how he’d just returned from a vacation in Maui and living the ultimate life as a bachelor. I couldn’t ever see my dad re-marrying. He loved the freedom too much, the ability to take off to faraway lands without needing approval from anyone. He was a wanderer, that was simply who he was. I’d held that against him for too long, I’d realized. He was a man that craved adventure, the ability to hop on a plane and get lost in a foreign land. He was never meant to be a family man, tied down to a wife and a child and a house in the suburbs. As he was showing me his latest tattoo, one that finished the full sleeve he’d started a year ago, I turned at the sound of an overly loud feminine laugh. I felt my eyes widen. God damn, this kid was everywhere. “Shit.”

I watched him do a double take as he recognized me. He guided the overly touchy woman to their table before walking over to ours. I forced a smile as he approached. “Ben, hi. Dad, this is Ben, we worked together on my last project.”

“Nice to meet you, sir. Your daughter is making big waves in the marketing world.” I was taken aback by his compliment.

“Glad to hear it.”

At the same time, our server brought us our bill and I could have kissed her then. I wasn’t sure why I felt weird but I did and I wanted to leave. I knew Ben could feel it too. “Well we’ll let you get back to your lunch, we have to get out of here,” I said to him, throwing cash down on the table before my dad could. I was speaking too fast, why was I speaking so fast?

Ben frowned at me, “Okay.”

“Enjoy.” Enjoy? I rolled my eyes at myself, grabbing my coat.

“We’ll talk later? I have a few things I’d like to run past you.”

“Sure, just have Val call me and we’ll set something up.” I turned my back and moved to follow my dad who was already halfway out the door.

“Maddie.” I closed my eyes; I needed to pull myself together. Really, I just needed this week to be over. It was all too much, too many emotions and I didn’t want to deal with any of it. Seeing Ben with someone else did things to my insides I didn’t want to acknowledge and all I wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed until I could climb on a plane and go see my mom. Letting out a slow breath, I turned around and forced a smile to my face. “Is everything okay?”

“Its fine, Ben. Why?” He was looking into my eyes, searching for something. I’d made sure I was shuttered.

“Just making sure.”

“Go back to your lunch, I don’t want to be the reason you keep your date waiting, we’ll talk later, okay?” Before he could answer, I turned and left.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

 

I sat in Mel’s office and listened with joy as she explained I had some requests from other clients. They’d heard through the grapevine about the success of Ben’s campaign and they liked my approach. Well okay then, go girl.

 

It had been two days since I saw Ben at lunch. I remembered that he wanted to talk to me about a new campaign and I gathered my lady balls and called his office. “Hey girl, he’s not here. He decided to go to the conference in New York.”

“Oh yes of course. Mel left earlier today for that as well. She’ll be gone for almost an entire week.” And allow me some breathing room.

Val told me that Ben never mentioned anything about another campaign but he hasn’t stopped talking about the results the current campaign was getting. “Since my boss is gone and your boss is gone and it’s Friday – what do you say we sneak out early?” she suggested. “I think we can make it for happy hour.”

“I think that’s the best idea you’ve ever had,” I told her. “Whoever gets there last buys the first round.”

It turned out I was the last one there and the first round was on my buck. Val was easy to get along with; we talked and laughed and it was a great way to decompress after a hectic work week. I looked around the busy bar and felt myself stiffen. “Crap on a cracker,” I muttered under my breath.

Val snorted into her drink. “Pardon?”

The familiar face across the room hadn’t noticed me yet, thank the good lord, but there he was, buying drinks at the bar. Apparently he could afford drinks, but not groceries. I quickly told Val my horrendous date story when, damn, my luck had run out. He’d spotted us. “Hey, sexy. Long time no see! How have you been, we should get together and catch up.”

I looked at him like he had two heads. “Oh yeah, I’m going to be busy that day, sorry.”

“But I didn’t tell you what day.”

“I’m going to be busy every day. Forever.”

“Okay, who’s your friend?” Yep, and I let this guy put his dick in me. Good job self, pat on the fucking back.

The next week I was focused only on work. I felt like I needed a dating detox. I even deleted one of the apps. Believe it or not! I could have sworn I was getting carpal tunnel in my thumb from swiping. I lived and breathed work putting everything I had into these new campaigns when finally the day came that I was able to go home for Mimi’s big birthday bash.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

 

I was summoned to help my mom decorate the hall. I’d been informed when she’d picked me up from the airport yesterday that it was a double birthday party; Mimi and her friend Marg’s birthdays were a day apart and they were both turning the big 8-0.

I was drowning in silver balloons as I shoved them out of my face, pulling them from my mom’s little car and dragging them into the hall. There were old photos of my grandmother everywhere; photos of her and my grandfather, they looked so in love, photos of Mimi and Marg. My grandmother was currently at the salon getting her hair and makeup done; she’d blown the lid on her own party. No one could keep secrets from Mimi, it was a known fact. I don’t know how she found out, probably from the neighbors, cousin’s paperboy or something.

“Come on, the hall will do everything else,” my mom said, grabbing my elbow and dragging me outside. “I scheduled time for us to meet Mimi at the salon and get a blow out.” I wasn’t going to argue, this hair needed some love.

Mimi sat in her chair like a royal queen, her nails, hair and makeup being tended to. By different people. I was ushered into a chair and explained that I just wanted to wear my hair down. My mom sat in the chair beside me. We listened to Mimi tell the entire salon about her friendship with Marg, how they’d been friends for over forty years and lost touch then found each other again. “Marg was the one whose grandson lives in San Francisco,” she said, pointedly at me.

“Oh great, the successful business man, right.”

“I think he’s coming to the party you know, you can finally meet him.” Oh lord, this would be interesting. I couldn’t even refuse, it was Mimi’s birthday and what she said was the final word.

 

I’d changed into a tight black dress. I walked down the stairs and felt my mom’s eyes on me. Judging.

“This is a new look for you,” she mused. It was. When I was with Aaron, I would take to cardigans and button downs. Now, I felt comfortable in my body and felt better wearing tighter clothes that showed off curves I was proud of. Yes, it gained more attention and if I was honest, this was a dress that was one of my more modest outfits from my recent closet overhaul.

“It’s nice, looks good on you,” Mimi said, walking out of the kitchen. “You know I knew this girl when I was about twenty, she was just the nicest person and I would stop and talk to her when I was on my way to my job. One night I saw her and she was all dressed up wearing a dress exactly like that. I asked her where she was going and she told me she was working – she was a prostitute.”

“Mimi!”

“To like rich men, she had standards, no judgement,” she implored holding her hands up, “all God’s children.” She looked me up and down. “Does it come in my size?”

“Did she just call me a prostitute?” I asked my mom who had her hand over her mouth, stifling her laughter.

“Yes, but the way I interpreted it was that you look like a prostitute who has high standards, not one of those hood rat prostitutes, you know? One that buys Chanel and drives a Mercedes.”

“Oh my god.” I turned and moved for the front door. “Can we go?”

 

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

 

There were so many people at the party. The DJ was playing music and people were dancing. It wasn’t a typical early bird special, senior citizen party, no sir, Mimi and her friend liked to dance and they liked to drink. Music was bumping, drinks were flowing, food was being served. It was the perfect way to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday.

I took a glass of pink champagne on my way in with eyes on the food table. Mimi stayed behind with her friend Marg so they could make an entrance. A girl always needed to make an entrance. There was a round of loud cat calls and cheers when they finally walked in – queens, both of them.

Guests immediately gravitated toward the dance floor. I watched with fondness from the sidelines. “I think she’s enjoying herself,” my mom mused as she sidled up next to me.

“Me too, good job on the party mom.” A man approached us with a broad smile. He was about my mom’s age, give or take a few years. They seemed familiar, comfortable, some twinkle in both of their eyes as he asked her to dance. And wouldn’t you know, she actually looked flustered. My mom had a crush. I leaned in, “Go, Mom. Dance, have fun.” And as I was left standing alone, I could almost see the spotlight on the bar.

“Fancy meeting you here.”

I whipped around at the familiar voice behind me. “What the hell are you doing here?”

He laughed. “Nice to see you too.”

“Your level of stalking is starting to become alarming.”

“Oh Maddie! There you are. Marg wanted to introduce you to her grandson,” Mimi almost shouted from across the room. Her and Marg with champagne glasses in hand, arm in arm came walking over.

“Oh! You two have already met, how wonderful.”

“Ben is your grandson?” I asked, almost outraged.

“Mimi is your grandmother?”

“Wait, you two know each other?” Mimi and Marg asked at the same time.

“Yes, we know each other.”

“Ben, doesn’t she look beautiful.” I immediately felt my face flame. I downed the rest of my champagne in one sip. Oh god. “Ask her to dance.” This is what it felt like. This was what utter mortification felt like.

Ben, bless him, took me out on the dancefloor and placed his hands on my hips as I wrapped mine around his neck. Damn, the man smelled so good. “You do look beautiful, by the way.”

I smiled up at him, “Thanks.” The rest of the song was silent, and when it ended I, for some insane moment, decided I was feeling brave. I was an idiot. “Do you want to go talk somewhere more quiet?”

“Sure.” He grabbed us both a glass of champagne and I slipped my arm through his. He ushered me out on to one of the balconies. It was a now or never moment and I felt the butterflies. Ben was the perfect guy. He was handsome, successful, nice.

“You had mentioned that you wanted to talk to me about another campaign?” I’d made sure to touch his arm, all the little tricks I’d learned over the past few months.

He laughed. “You know, we don’t need to talk about business all the time.”

“Fair enough.”

He held up his glass, “Cheers.” I clinked my glass against his and took the plunge. I leaned in and kissed Ben Davis.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

 

He pulled back, holding my upper arms. He cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. I suddenly felt the heat of embarrassment; that was clearly not what he wanted. “Maddie…”

“Oh my god, I’m sorry. I just thought… oh god.” I turned and ran away, hearing him calling after me. I’d just made a pass at one of my clients and it was quite clear he didn’t feel the same.

Running into the woman’s bathroom, I felt tears on my face. What the hell was I doing? How did I get here? I placed both hands on the counter and hung my head, just breathing. After ten minutes, the bathroom door opened and Ben walked in. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Why are you always running away from me? Am I that scary?”

“No, Ben, I’m so sorry. I’m so embarrassed. I shouldn’t have done that. I just… I don’t know, I’ve developed some sort of weird crush on you and I clearly took it way too far.”

He leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. “Well, I can’t say that I’m not flattered.” He paused and I could see him sorting through his thoughts. “But the thing is, I’m gay.”

I felt it. The upheaval then the drop of my stomach. Well that was unexpected. “What?”

“I’m gay, Maddie.”

I dropped my head against the mirror with a loud moan. “What the hell? But you’re always with different women.”

“Different women who are business associates.”

“But my grandmother told me that her friend Marg’s grandson was single and living in San Francisco and that we should hook up.”

“Well, I am single and living in San Francisco and we should hook up, for like shopping or grabbing a coffee. I think I’m a pretty fun guy. And I’m an awesome fucking friend.”

I stared at him before laughing. I’d never heard him swear before, he’d always been so stuffy, so proper. “Can we go get drunk?”

“Yes!” He took my hand and we walked back toward the party. “You know I do have a brother.”

“Is he gay too?”

“No, he is very heterosexual.”

“Ah, as tempting as that promo sounds, I think I need to take a step back from the non-dating, dating world.”

“Yeah, revenge fucks get old real quick.”

“How did you know?”

“You’re pretty easy to read,” he told me with a wink.

“You’re right, they do. My grandmother called me a prostitute tonight.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Are you at least getting paid?”

I sighed. “No. If anything I’m losing money.” We both started laughing at the ridiculous state I found myself in.

“And it wasn’t a new campaign I wanted to talk to you about.”

“No?”

“No. I wanted to run an idea past you. I want to open up a firm, and if you’re willing, I want it to be yours. You run it, it’s your name on the sign, and it’s your baby.”

“What? But I’m just starting out.” I felt all my dreams colliding together as I stared at him.

“No you’re not. You’ve been sitting in a cubicle for three years with other people taking credit for your work. I’ve been paying attention which is why I specifically asked for you to take my campaign. You’re too good to be stuck behind someone else’s name, Maddie. You’d be surprised how much weight your name carries in the marketing world.”

 

EPILOGUE

 

A year later, I was emptying one of the last boxes in my new office of my new company, the one that had my name on the door. Ben had become one of my best friends, my very gay best friend, and he was a person I relied on in my daily life. I was meeting up with all of my friends tonight to celebrate and Ben asked if he could bring someone, there was no other answer than yes. Especially because I was very curious who this new man friend of his was. Oh la la.

For the first time in a long time, I felt independent. I didn’t need to have sex with a stranger in order to validate myself in some ass backward way. I was comfortable being alone because I finally knew my self-worth. If a man didn’t want to take me out on a date, a real date without sending a dick pic or taking me to a sex club or asking me for money or was on parole, then I didn’t need them. I wanted to let it happen organically so I closed all of my dating site accounts. Maybe in six months I would try again, but right now I was okay without the one night stands.

Laughing over drinks, the girls and I were waiting for Ben to show. In a non-business setting, the man was consistently fashionably late. When he finally arrived, silent looks were exchanged around the table as they approached. Dayum, the man friend was fine. “Maddie, ladies, this is my brother, Corey.” Ah, the resemblance now made sense.

Reaching out his hand, I gripped it with mine. “Nice to meet you, Maddie. I’ve heard a lot about you.” I heard the suggestive noise Lisa made from beside me as she sipped her drink. I pretended to ignore her.

I felt my smile, the warmth that was these people as they surrounded me while we drank and laughed and celebrated.

Ben, who placed another drink in front of me (like I needed another), wrapped an arm around my shoulders as he leaned in to whisper in my ear. “Not gay.”

“Got it, thank you so much.” I rolled my eyes at him and shoved him away.

“Very single,” he mouthed as he took at seat across from me.

“Ben’s told me that you just moved into your new office.” I turned to Corey whose attention was solely on me. He continued to ask me questions and it was a conversation that was interesting and intriguing. He was asking questions that no other guy had ever asked me before; he asked about my family, what I liked to do. He was so attentive. It was the first conversation I’d had in a long time in a casual setting where the man wasn’t acting like he wanted to immediately take me home to bed. Besides Ben, that was. Because he liked the p just as much as I did. I found out more about Ben’s brother, that he lived right here in San Francisco, and I’d never seen this fine piece of man meat, and that he owned his own consulting firm. I wondered then, if this was the grandson Marg wanted to set me up with.

I looked around at my friends who were all happy and laughing, most of them now relationships, and I knew that I wasn’t the same girl I was a year ago. I didn’t feel some misplaced need that if my friends were in a relationship, I had to fuck my way into one too. If a man wanted to take me out, I wanted to know it was going to be worth it. I wanted to try the friends before lover’s thing; I wanted conversation and romance and wooing and hearts and flowers and everything in between.

As the night came to a close, the fantastic four were left – me, Jamie, Ben and his sexy brother Corey. Jamie and I stood on the sidewalk hailing a taxi while we said our goodnights. As the yellow car pulled up, Corey opened the door, like a fucking gentleman. Jamie climbed in before me; I felt his strong had on my wrist as I moved to follow her. “Let me take you out for dinner.”

I smiled. “Like a date?”

His grin did something to my lady parts. “Yeah, like a date.” A real date! I felt butterflies and as much as I wanted to jump at the opportunity and tell him yes, then ask why he was still clothed and point to the dark alley behind us, I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t that same girl anymore. Ben’s brother was different, a good, delicious, sexy different. But so was I. “Maybe.”

The End

I hope you enjoyed reading about Maddie and her shenanigans as much as I loved writing about them. If you take away anything from this online book, I hope its that its better to be safe than sorry – wrap it up.

My deepest gratitude & Warm Wishes.

J.