“Cheers, best friend, to completing your third novel!” Adiza shouted as she clinked her wine glass with mine.
“Yessss, finally!” I hollered.
Adiza and I sat in the busy Gray Area, a tiny bar tucked on a corner in Hoboken, New Jersey, out of sight. Everyone considered this bar to be Jersey’s little secret. If you didn’t know it by name, you wouldn’t find it. Gray Area just wasn’t the place you stumbled on while out and about.
This was my hangout spot, the place I visited to craft and create. Some writers liked to type their manuscripts in coffee shops or libraries. I was more of the bar fly type.
“The result of six long months.” I beamed while clapping for my damn self.
“Wow, three whole books,” she said taking a sip of her red wine. “Brandi, I’m so proud of you.”
I imitated a bow in my seat. “Thank you, thank you.”
“Now if we could just get your life to imitate some of this art, you create so well…”
I ran my fingers through my hair then took a deep cleansing breath.
“I’m saying, Brandi. You write erotica, really sexy erotica,” she bellowed. “But half the shit you write about you don’t even live. I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, so… what it sounds like is that it’s time to talk about something else,” I said looking around us. Adiza had a penchant for speaking loud and not realizing it. And it didn’t matter the place. Crowded rooms, empty spaces. She never failed to be an octave higher than she needed to be… every time the woman spoke.
“And those scenes are fire. Sometimes I have to change my panties between chapters.” She nudged me playfully.
“Come on, live a little.”
“Refill?” the bartender asked.
His eyes sparkled. It was the one feature about him I had saved to memory because all the rest of him he kept covered with hair.
“Sure,” I said to the bartender then turned my attention on Adiza. “You need to learn how to keep your voice down.”
“Do you remember the dare you accepted when you first started writing.”
I looked up at the bearded, locked-hair bartender noticing he was lingering in front of us a bit too long after pouring my drink.
“Okay, thanks,” I said to him, forcing a smile.
He smiled back before walking away.
“First, you need to learn how to speak with an inside voice.” I poked her on the arm and she laughed.
“Second, I accepted that dare after having way too many tequila shots, okay? And anything said or agreed to during a drunk night doesn’t really count.”
Adiza rolled her eyes.
“You said,” she continued, despite my interjection, “that after you completed your third book that you would bring one of your short stories to life. Penning short stories helped with completing books, three is your favorite number, both are significant to you… yada, yada, ya. You made it a thing so here we are. Third book complete. Now it’s time to keep your word.”
“Come on, B,” she whined. “Step out of your comfort zone, damn. Would it kill you to have an affair for once? See a sexy stranger and do something impulsive?”
I gathered my hair at the top of my head to secure it in a bun. “Actually, it could kill me. There are diseases and—”
“So… condoms are of a rarity these days? And has it been that long where you’ve forgotten how to pick em’?”
I rolled my eyes again.
She kissed her teeth. “Why don’t you live out your short? You know the one…” She snapped her fingers in the air. Once she remembered the story’s title, she slammed her hand down on the bar counter and shouted, ” 3 in the morning! Yessss!”
I turned my head slow in her direction.
“Head out to the city, stop in at Witches Brew, meet a guy, and hook up with him at a nearby Marriot.”
Her voice was loud again.
“Oh, and in room 333… it has to be room 333. Then, tell me about it.”
“You’re talking too loud… again.”
“I’ll even send a friend your way to make the search simpler since you want to get all germophobe on me. He’s a law student, two years older than us. All man, boo.”
“His name is Cordell, and he’s really cute. I haven’t fucked him yet but—”
“Adiza!” I spat. I glanced around us again to make sure no one was listening in as this girl spilled all my tea. “Please. I’ll pass.”
“You’re such a prude now which is disappointing,” she said under her breath. “What would your readers think if they discovered you were a fraud? Prudish and boring with a zero percent sex drive.”
I turned my head in her direction again and she stared back at me. “Excuse you?”
“You don’t even want it… sex,” she added. “It’s one thing not to have time for it, life can get in the way. But to be all, ‘ewww… I don’t do that…’” She said that last part with finger quotes and shook her head.
“Fraud?!” I said to myself.
“How can you not want sex but you love writing about it?”
“Prudish and boring?!” I repeated.
“Just telling it like it is.” Adiza shrugged, real smug-like, then finished her drink.
And like a fool, I gave in.
“Fine,” I said throwing my hands up, defeated. “I’ll do it. But don’t even bother calling your friend. I’m not interested in charity dick in the least bit. I can catch my own.”
You could see her smile from Mars. “For real? Going to Witches Brew and booking hotel room 333 with a sexy stranger—”
“At the Marriott… yes, all that,” I replied. “I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll even arrive at Witches Brew at the time I said my character, Nova, did in my story.”
“3 a.m., on the dot?” Adiza asked, cheesing.
I half-shrugged. “Just to maintain the authenticity of the tale.”
“Ahhhhh,” she screamed, jumping out of her seat beside me to wrap her arms around me. “That’s my girl. Ohhh, this will be good.” She beamed. “You’ll tell me everything right? Right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
“Brandi, what the hell were you thinking?” I mumbled to myself.
The curves and smooth ridges in the cobblestone road my Honda Civic rolled over made my car sway from side to side. But the bumps were nothing compared to what my heart was doing in my chest. Beating. Fast, making it more difficult to take a breath with each mile I drove.
The windshield wipers whipped from left to right dusting off snow, doing its best to clear my view for me to see the road ahead. Just like me to agree to go into the city on one of the snowiest early mornings of the month. It was fine the day before. Sun shining, winter deciding to take a break to let spring do its thing. But the way my luck is set up, everything had to go back to March’s random ass is-it-winter-is-it-spring weather the day I decided to live out my short story.
“Why did I agree to do this?”
I sighed, leaning forward in my seat to get a better view of the street signs.
My motivation behind acting on the dare wasn’t just to shut Adiza up. I accepted the dare for a reason. Yes, my want to prove her wrong had a lot to do with my decision. Fraud and prudish wasn’t how I wanted her to view me. But I also accepted her challenge to challenge myself to get out of my head. To step out of my comfort zone as she put it. Do something crazy for once. And this was certainly crazy.
She’d been trying to hook me up with her male acquaintances for years. But I wasn’t with it. I hadn’t sworn off sex but gaining bed mates wasn’t a top priority either. I figured, an orgasm lasted ten, fifteen seconds… if I’m lucky. But the rush of completing a book… that experience lasted a lifetime. So, I channeled all that sexual energy I had on reserve, and focused it on my writing. I barely lived the experiences I wrote about, but I could capture certain elements of sex that at least got her seal of approval. Because of that, she dubbed me the inexperienced expert.
I shook my head thinking about her as I sat with my back straight in the driver’s seat, peeking over my steering wheel as I turned onto another street.
Witches Brew was my destination. A bar and lounge I’d only heard about via the sexy underbelly of the internet. During my research for my story, 3 in the morning, I happened upon talks about Witches Brew. What appealed was its location and what you had to do to get in. Located in a back alley on third avenue, you had to knock three times to even get a response to gain access. It fit the story, so I wrote it in. From the photos I saw, Witches Brew was a cute little hole in the wall spot where everything was black including the walls and you had to know the password to enter.
I lifted my foot off the gas a little as I squinted my eyes at the bar and lounge’s name stamped on a sidewall. The bar was in the alley right behind that brick wall, so I continued down that way.
“What am I doing?” I whined.
Parked behind a line of cars, I took a series of deep breaths, bringing my trembling hand to my forehead, doing my best to exhale my nerves around me.
“Fuck this… who am I kidding? I can’t do this shit,” I said, as I prepared myself to start my car back up. But as I gripped my key between the pinch of my thumb and pointer fingers I wondered, what’s the worst that could happen?
Well, that’s what my conscience was telling me.
“I’ll just go in there and see what’s up, that’s it,” I told myself.
I mean really, Adiza was looking for a good story. And the storyteller in me wanted to tell it.
Finally, out of my car, I ambled to the front door.
Just as some reviews hinted, the entrance looked more like the back door to a restaurant. You’ve seen the kind I’m talking about… steel door, a metal latch, a tiny drilled hole that served as a peephole.
I knocked the required three times then heard, “password?”
“Black cat,” I replied, trembling voice and all.
The sound of steel sliding and the click of locks introduced the sight which was Witches Brew.
The tall slim doorman looked me up and down, let a small smile pull at his lips then stepped aside.
He said nothing as I moseyed on past him. His eyes were still on me when I glanced over my shoulder to find him looking at me.
I blushed at the attention and walked farther inside.
Because I’d never visited Witches Brew, I depended on my imagination and photos found online to shape the visuals. And what I’d created from my imagination was nothing compared to what I saw in living color.
On each tiny table in the lounge were crystal vases, a bunch of black roses brimming the tops. The tables were black the chairs and barstools at the bar black too. The walls looked like they painted them with lipstick, black of course. They gleamed depending on where in the bar you walked. Inside the bar smelled like liquor and something else. Something just as intoxicating. Desire perhaps, I don’t know. Whatever it was eased my nerves.
Tiny flames swayed with the air and were kept contained inside their black frosted votive holders, positioned along the bar’s stretched out counter.
The patrons were engaged in conversation or sipping their drinks quietly.
I made my way to an available barstool and removed my coat when the bartender approached and asked what I wanted.
“A glass of Merlot, please,” I said.
He returned with a stemless glass filled to the top with the dark wine. I took a sip and pulled my hair out of my top bun, shaking my strands loose. The neck of my white off-the-shoulder sweater fell lower down my arms because of my movements.
“Hi.” I heard the voice coming from behind me but ignored it until he said, “Brandi? Right?”
I turned in my seat to face him and got a whiff of his cologne. The intoxicating bergamot and cedar wood scent introduced him before he even had a chance to.
I did a double take once I saw him. Tall, dark, and attractive. His skin was a deep umber. Brown with copper undertones like perfectly aged cognac. He glowed, even in that very black room. But that wasn’t the reason I needed to take a second look.
He looked familiar. Very familiar. But I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen him before.
“How did you—”
Before I thought to finish my sentence, I figured it out.
“Adiza,” I said to myself. “That girl doesn’t listen.”
Up close and under the bar’s dim lights, I noticed his stunning features even more. A baby face that still exuded masculine angles. Soft jawline, penetrating eyes, dimples at the sides of his cheeks that were so deep I could sink the tip of my finger in them. Trimmed hairs framed his full lips. I noticed the tiny nick on his cheek where he’d shaved. Even that subtle imperfection added to his appeal. He had faint blade marks near his close-cropped hairline that I only saw by squinting. It was obvious he’d just gotten a fresh haircut too. My eyes traveled over the black cashmere sweater he wore beneath his black three-quarter length wool coat, down to his pressed denim jeans, stopping on his gray suede Chelsea boots.
When our eyes met again, I said, “I’m sorry… have we met before?”
END OF SNEAK PEEK
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