Hotter Than 6°

The time has finally come for me to let this baby fly. I’ve received my proofs and she will be released to the public on August 1st. Writing is my form of art. This is all I ever have to offer. I’ve been thinking about that for a while now. How am I going to publicize something that I hold so near and dear to my heart? How am I going to generate the income to produce something I’d happily do for free? I still don’t have the answer to that. 

In any case, here are the first three chapters of my upcoming novel “Hotter than 6°.” This isn’t your average urban novel but you will be regaled and intrigued none the less. Let’s find out what happens when it gets a little “Hotter than 6°.

Chapter 1

 

The day had faded into a humid evening as Raquel drove home from her chemistry class. She coasted along the nearly empty side streets, trying to avoid the evening traffic.

When she was about twenty minutes away from home, her car began to sputter. This was the second time it had broken down in under a month. She pulled over and thanked goodness that she was not on a busy road like the last time.

Raquel was unsure of what to do. She’d called her boyfriend several times, but received no answer. She sat in silence for a moment, contemplating her next move, then reclined the driver’s seat and began to send him a text. For the hell of it, she included her best friend, Lily, and his best friend, James, as recipients. Someone was bound to see her smoke signal.

The sun was finally setting, and Raquel still had not received a reply from any of them. She watched the heavy clouds finally release the light rain they’d been holding nearly all day. To soothe her thoughts, she rested her eyes, the drumming of the rain against her car lulling her to sleep.

Everything will be fine. Marcus will be here any minute, she convinced herself.

*****

There was a tap on Raquel’s window, startling her awake. James looked back at her through the glass, giving her a little wave.

She laughed, cranking down her window. “James, always my hero. I don’t know what’s wrong with my car this time, but I’m sure you can figure it out.”

James nodded as Raquel popped the hood. He had picked her up the last time she needed roadside assistance. He often came to her rescue.

“So where’s Marcus?” Raquel yelled through the cracked car window. “Did he call you?”

“You know I don’t really know anything about cars, right?” James said in response. Raquel’s question went unanswered. “I wouldn’t know what else to do for you besides try to jump the battery. Worst case scenario, you’ll have to leave the car here and we’ll have it towed to my uncle’s shop.”

James worked at his Uncle Eugene’s auto repair shop, still learning the ins and outs of the trade. He mostly focused on the daily operations, but was willing to help Raquel anyway he could.

Raquel started to grow frustrated and restless while he tried to jump start her car. Despite the car being a pressing issue at the moment, Marcus weighed heavily on her mind. Lately, she never knew where he was or what he was up to. Whenever she needed him he would make his appearance late, and only after James had already done the foot work.

“Okay, we’re calling it a night. I’m going to call my uncle’s tow truck,” James announced after a few failed attempts at getting her car started. Raquel slowly climbed out of her car, dejected, then hopped into James’ car and off they went.

They spent the first ten minutes of the ride barely speaking. Raquel quietly thumbed at the leather piping on the passenger seat as she stared out the window. At length, she decided to repeat her question. This time Raquel was certain that James was ignoring her as he awkwardly shifted her attention to the song on the radio.

Rather than giving him any response about the song, Raquel decided to try another approach. Something had to be up with Marcus. Her intuition screamed loudly that there was more digging to be done.

“I’m hungry, James. Do you want to grab a bite to eat?” she suggested. Maybe she could pick his brain over a meal.

He readily agreed.

*****

James’ heartbeat sped as they pulled into the parking lot. He hoped that dinner would derail Raquel’s questions about Marcus. In truth, James had no idea where Marcus could be. Lately, when he wasn’t working and wasn’t with Raquel, he was with the other girl he’d started dating a few months ago.

When Marcus had confided in James that he was seeing someone behind Raquel’s back, he told James that he still loved Raquel, but he wanted something different for a while. His reasoning was that his new friend was like having a chicken dinner instead of the steak he had grown used to. James’ only relief was that Marcus had not introduced this new girl to him.

He hated lying to Raquel to cover for Marcus, knowing that she was a great girlfriend. In addition to being attractive, Raquel was also brilliant. She’d graduated with her first degree in biochemistry last year, and was now working on her master’s degree. She stood at about five feet, ten inches tall, with gorgeous, almond-shaped eyes. Her skin was chestnut colored with a deep russet undertone. To complete her package, she was also funny, understanding, and loved sports. When Marcus started bringing her around his friends three years ago, she’d instantly been accepted as one of the guys.

He brushed off his thoughts and reached into the backseat for his umbrella. Before he could get out of the car and to the passenger side to open the door for Raquel, she was already out and jogging to the entrance of the restaurant.

“Took you long enough,” Raquel joked as he pushed through the door behind her. She turned her attention to the hostess. “Booth for two, please.”

As they followed the hostess to their booth, James stopped walking and glanced at Raquel like he’d just seen a ghost.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing. Nothing at all. I just remembered a friendly bet I have with my uncle about tonight’s football game. I think we should sit at the bar.”

His words seemed forced and almost uncertain. His sad, honey brown eyes deceived his full, smiling lips. Raquel brushed it off and agreed to sit at the bar.

“James?” she asked once they’d taken their seats.

“What’s up?” he replied as he skimmed over the menu.

“You tell me.”

James put his menu down, but didn’t reply right away. They stared at one another intently. His thoughts raced for answers through their silence, but there were none to be found.

James finally broke the silence. “What do you mean?”

“I mean what’s up with Marcus?” she demanded. “Why do you keep ignoring my questions about him?”

“What questions? Raq, you haven’t asked me about him since I picked you up. If you had, I would have told you that I haven’t heard from him since yesterday,” James replied coolly.  He was nervous and wanted to stop Raquel in her tracks.

“Come on, Jay,” she pressed. “I know you know something. Why’d you come get me instead of him? Why is it always you?”

“What do you mean? Why am I a good friend?” he countered. “What exactly are you asking me?”

James strived to remain calm. He wanted to plead his case without revealing what his friend had been up to. He wanted to tell Raquel that he had nothing to do with the foul moves his friend was making, but there was no way James was going to see Marcus go out like that.

Her silence unnerved him, and he started to ramble. “You have to understand that Marcus is my boy, and you’re the woman in his life. When you sent me a text, I assumed it was because you couldn’t reach Marc, and so I came to get you. What’s the question in that?”

“Okay, stop. You can stop.” Raquel signaled for the bartender. “Can I have a rum and coke please? Top shelf. Thanks.”

James turned his attention to the bartender and ordered a Hennessy highball, wings, and a sampler for them to share.

“I’ll stop prying,” she conceded. “It’s just that my intuition is telling me that something is off. But you aren’t the person that I need to have this talk with. Marcus is.”

James nodded in agreement. “Thank you.”

The tension subsided as evening faded into night. The pair laughed and talked with ease. Raquel continued to drink, but James stopped after his second highball. She drank the entire time, and had far exceeded her limit.

It’s time for her to call it a night, he surmised. James called the bartender for the bill, then excused himself to go to the restroom

*****

While James was gone, his phone vibrated against the bar. Raquel, bitten by curiosity, was compelled to give his phone a glance. It occurred to her that hours had passed, and she still had not received any word from Marcus.

 

Thanks, man. IOU – twice. Lol

 

The text was from Marcus. Raquel cast a quick glimpse over her shoulder to see if James was nearby. There was no sign of him approaching, so she continued to go through his phone. There was nothing else to be found outside of old messages from his uncle. Disappointed, she put the phone back in its place and gulped down the rest of her drink.

“So, you ready to go?” James asked as he approached their seats. His gorgeous smile lit up the room. “I’ve got to head home. It’s gloating time, and my uncle has to pay up.”

James’ uncle was like a father to him. His parents had passed away when he was a young boy, and his uncle had stepped in, raising him as his own son.

Raquel hummed with satisfaction. “Sure, let’s go. Is dinner on you?” she joked. “I mean, me being the struggling college student and all, you can’t possibly expect me to afford all those drinks.”

When Raquel stood, she and James were practically nose to nose. James laughed nervously and backed away. Raquel was only an inch shorter than himself, and probably slightly heavier than him as well.

“Let’s get you home,” he sighed. He knew that he shouldn’t ask, but he went against his better judgment. “Did you call Marcus yet?”

Raquel scoffed and headed towards the car. “No, but he said ‘Thank you’.”

James was perplexed for a moment, then pulled his phone from his pocket. He flipped through it silently before realizing that Raquel had gone through his phone. James followed her to his car and opened the passenger door.

“Why would you go through my phone, Raquel?”

“It was there, and so was I. In my defense, I didn’t even know it was there until it made noise.” She huffed, pouting as her soft fingers caressed his face. “I did it out of consideration for you! What if the message had been important?”

Almost furious, he brushed Raquel’s hand away. “Don’t do that again,” he scolded her.

He could only be upset with himself though. His carelessness could’ve blown Marcus’ cover. If Marcus thought that James had revealed his misdeeds to Raquel, he would never forgive him. Likewise, if Raquel found out he was covering for Marcus, he could lose the friend he’d discovered in her.

Raquel laughed, then slurred, “Being drunk doesn’t make you stupid, you know that, don’t you?” Given, she was inebriated, but was also aware that something was not right. “You ignored me earlier when I asked you where Marcus was. Why is that?”

“Again, I didn’t hear you ask me about Marcus. I’m his best friend, not his guardian, so I wouldn’t know where he’s been all day,” James fumed.

Another lie. Lie after lie he’d told to assist in building Marcus’ smoke screen. James was sensitive and loyal, but was having a hard time holding himself together.

“I sent him a text telling him that I was with you, and to call me when he could. That’s why he’s thanking me,” he continued. “I’m serious Raquel. Don’t go through my phone again. I would never do that to you.”

“You’re right, and I apologize,” she answered as she climbed into his car. “I feel kind of ridiculous. I didn’t know you’d sent him a message.”

James shut the door, circling around to get in as she stared out the window, playing with an imaginary object in her hand. There was silence the entire way home.

“You passed my house. Gotta make a U-turn,” she said softly a little later. As they rolled around the block, Marcus pulled into her driveway. Her best friend, and now roommate, Lily, was already home.

James and Raquel got out of the car as Marcus got out of his. When they met in the middle of the driveway, they shared in an awkward silence.

*****

“Sup man?” Marcus greeted. He and James tapped fists, then Marcus turned to give Raquel a hug. He kissed her forehead, saying, “Hey baby.”

“Hello, my love,” Raquel replied as she smiled seductively. “Where have you been all day?”

Marcus ignored Raquel’s question and directed his attention to James. “Is she drunk?”

“I prefer ‘slightly intoxicated’, but in answer to your question, yes. Sort of,” Raquel interrupted. “Now answer my question.”

James glanced at Marcus nervously, then kissed Raquel on the cheek and excused himself for the night. As he walked to the car, he motioned for Marcus to follow him.

“Look, I can’t keep doing this,” James murmured. “I don’t want to keep lying for you.”

Marcus stood next to him, brow furrowing. “What are you talking about?”

“You know what I’m talking about, man. I saw you at the restaurant today when I was out with Raquel!”

“Okay, okay. Lower your voice,” Marcus hissed. “I saw you too. You didn’t get my text? What do you want me to say?”

“Yeah, we both got your text. Raquel went in my phone and I cleared up your mess. Again.”

Marcus was silent. He thought for a moment to ask for details, but dismissed his concern. He turned to face the house. Through the window, he could see Raquel’s best friend Lily walking towards the couch where Raquel had laid down.

“I’ll keep you out of it, but I’ve got to head in the house. We good, right?”

James huffed a little and shifted his feet. “We grew up together, so you already know the answer to that.”

Before they parted ways, Marcus held his hand out. “Are we good?”

James ignored his hand and got into his car.

Marcus blew off his friend’s anger and headed back to the house to tend to his girlfriend. Raquel was asleep on the couch by the time he got inside. He sat down next to her and rubbed her back.

“Lily, should I let Raquel stay here, or should I bring her up to her room? In all the years we’ve been together, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her drunk like this before.”

In response, Lily tossed a blanket over her sleeping friend. “She’ll be alright, and I’ve seen her worse. Don’t you remember the night we all met?” she asked with a smile.

“How could I forget? It was your first year in college. Raqi was wearing this hot pink, skin tight dress… Wasn’t that your dress?”

Lily scoffed. “Yeah, it was mine. Raquel don’t even like pink, but she wanted to wear something that had her covered from neck to ankle.”

They shared a laugh. Neither of them wanted to admit what else came to mind when they replayed the night they’d first met. Before Marcus had chosen to get serious with Raquel, the three of them had been in a polyamorous relationship. Sometimes he caught himself remembering the sex they would have. It had started off as a game for him; a form of excitement. The girls were his little secret, and he was theirs.

*****

Five years ago…

            “Come on. You’re not going to kiss her?” the tall, handsome grad student coaxed the two girls.    

“We don’t get down like that,” the beautiful mahogany girl replied. Her brows were furrowed, her almond shaped eyes narrowed.

            “Yes, we do,” the lighter toned girl replied. She was far more mischievous and willing than her partner in crime.

            “Lily, don’t do that. We don’t even know this guy,” the younger girl insisted, attempting to dodge her friend’s lips.

            “Come on, Raquel.” Lily pulled Raquel in by the back of her neck and began feverishly kissing her for the attractive stranger.

            Initially, Raquel resisted. Then her shoulders released their tension and her hands draped around the small of her shorter companion’s back. They continued on this way for a few minutes before the young man stepped forward and pulled them apart. He kissed each of them deeply, but during his kiss with Raquel, she pushed him away.

            This is crazy! I don’t even know your name.”

            Her expression was serious, but her gaze was set on her friend.

            He licked his lips and raised a brow. “It’s Marcus,” he replied, and with the tip of his index finger, he guided her chin so that she would look in his direction.

            She frowned. Had her mother known what she was up to, she would be sorely disappointed. Raquel could not bear that guilt. She turned to walk away, but Marcus grabbed her hand, turning her back. Raquel took the moment to stare into his eyes. They pled for her to stay. Raquel felt as though her decision to stay was not in spite of her better judgment, rather it was because of it. Marcus had this effect on women, and he knew it.

            The trio spent that entire semester together. The polyamorous lifestyle was cool for a while, but the girls started getting selfish. They each wanted their new toy for themselves.

            “Marcus, I want you to choose,” Lily admitted one day. Her gorgeous, pale green eyes pierced into Marcus’ as they cuddled. Raquel was in class at the time.

            “Lil, I can’t do that. I like you both,” he replied. “Raquel was never down for this. She’s staying because she loves me. She told me that. And you? You don’t love me. You love the idea of me and my money. My ambition.”

            “That’s not true,” Lily said thoughtfully as she interlocked their fingers. “I think I’m allowed to admire your ambition, aren’t I?”

            “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

*****

“So how have you been?” Marcus asked as he pushed the memories away. He hadn’t seen Lily since she’d dropped out of college.

“Eh, I can’t complain. Thanks to Raquel, I have a place to stay. She even got me a job at her grad school. Things are picking up.” Lily shrugged. “It’s like we didn’t miss a beat. Our friendship was rekindled almost instantly.”

 

Marcus nodded in response and headed towards Raquel’s bedroom. “I’m happy for you,” he said.

Lily still thought Marcus was one of the sexiest men she had ever met. He shadowed Lily’s small frame at six feet, four inches tall, and weighing two twenty. He had beautiful, stark white teeth, full lips, and dark, cocoa skin. She thought Raquel and Marcus made the perfect couple. They were equally attractive and brilliant. Marcus had received his Master’s degree in biochemistry and now worked as a toxicologist for the FDA, while Raquel was still in pursuit of an even higher education.

Lily hated to admit it, but she still felt somewhat jilted by his decision to be with Raquel. She could vividly recall their last argument.

*****

            Lily was distraught. “Marcus, you’re really going to leave me? You can’t be serious.”

            “Liliana, I’m sorry,” Marcus apologized awkwardly. He didn’t know what to do or how to respond to Lily’s hysterics. 

            “What did Raquel say? Did she ask you to do this?” Lily had only questions as she paced the room. She felt betrayed. She couldn’t understand why Marcus had decided to leave her after she’d just told him how much she loved him.

            “She doesn’t know, Lily. I wanted to tell you first. Did you think this was going to go on forever? I care about you, but you’re not the kind of girl that I can bring home to my mother.”

            Marcus didn’t even flinch as he delivered the verbal blow. His reality was that Lily was fun to be around, but Raquel was sensible and easy to mold. He needed a suitable wife, and didn’t want to bring a wild girl like Liliana home to his family.

            Lily sat down on the edge of the bed and buried her face in her hands. Lily didn’t imagine marriage would be on the table so soon. She and Raquel were still in their first year of college. Her self-esteem was weakened. She wanted to be molded. She wanted to be his future wife.

Marcus sat next to Lily and embraced her. She allowed it. Her mind was going in many different directions as she cried in his arms. She knew she couldn’t stand being around when Marcus asked Raquel to enter a monogamous relationship with him.

*****

Lily followed Marcus towards the bedrooms. “Well, good night,” she said.

“Night.”

After such a rough breakup and spending so much time away, she thought she would be over the loss. Yet here she was. Back in their faces and feeling the same way she had when Marcus had broken up with her. The memories from years ago lingered in her mind like a bad taste in her mouth.

*****

The next morning, Raquel woke up to scents of cooking wafting from the kitchen. Slightly hung over, she ignored the smell and went to the bathroom. The hot water from the shower stung her skin, but released the tension in her forehead and temples. The smell of biscuits and bacon began to permeate the bathroom as her shower came to an end.

She stared in the mirror at the dark rings around her eyes and frowned, struggling to remember how she’d ended up sleeping on her couch instead of in her bedroom. She dismissed the thoughts, recounting the events from last night as she ran her fingers through her tight, wet curls, pulling her hair into a ponytail.

“Good morning, guys,” Raquel called as she entered the kitchen. She kissed Lily on the cheek then walked towards the stove to share in a passionate kiss with Marcus. “Sorry I fell asleep on you, baby.”

“It’s all right, love,” Marcus responded. “We made you breakfast. Well, Lily did most of the work.”

They shared a laugh, but Raquel felt awkward being in the same room as Marcus and Lily after so much time had passed. Lily had left them both without saying a word. Raquel had lost a lover, and her relationship with her best friend had suffered for it. In lieu of ‘goodbyes’ she would only ever receive the occasional message from her dearest friend.

 

She had been unsure of how things would be when she allowed Lily to move in with her, but one thing she made certain to clarify was that there would be no more trysts between the three of them. She had moved past that point in her life, and she had no intention of going back.

 

Chapter 2

Three months ago…

            “Hello?”

            “Hey, Raquel?”

            “Hey! You have a new number?”

            Lily paused. “Yeah. I needed to go off the radar for a while.”

“A while? More like years. Or an eternity!” Raquel joked.

“Okay, you’re right, I’ve been off the radar for a long time. College just wasn’t my thing, I guess.”

            “Well, can I save this number?” Raquel asked.

            “Yes, please do. I’m in town for a few days. Can we meet for dinner?”

            “I would love to!” Raquel replied, excited to see her oldest friend. “What time did you want to meet? I have no studies today. I’m just going to relax.”

            “Let’s meet at the diner off Main Avenue in about… an hour?”

            Raquel agreed, and in less than an hour, she was sitting in the diner’s parking lot, fiddling with her phone, nervous energy pumping through her body. She wondered how Lily had been, what she had been up to. She also considered if this was a good time for her to ask Lily why she had left in the first place. The topic always felt like it was a no-fly zone.

She decided to let the dinner take its own course. There would be no prying or offsetting the mood and she would allow Liliana to take the lead.

Raquel watched Liliana get out of a champagne colored coupe. It was clean, and seemed to be brand new. She didn’t know what to expect from Lily, and yet she was still surprised, and more than a little curious. After waiting a few minutes, Raquel followed her friend into the diner.

Lily was facing the door when she walked in. They greeted one another with a warm hug.

“What’s been up with you?” Raquel asked Lily as she drew away from their hug, stepping back to give Lily a once over.

“Living and travelling,” Lily answered. Her skin was fresh and glowing. She was completely at ease. “I’m just getting back from Belize.”

“Wow! How long were you down there?” Raquel asked as they picked their seats and sat down.

“Not long. Maybe a month or so. I’ve just been following the wind, and after that, locating the need. There’s a lot of service to be done worldwide, Raq,” Lily declared as she flagged their server down. “I mean, deciding to get involved has been truly monumental. It’s crazy.”

Raquel watched her friend in awe. She was a different person now, and it made Raquel proud. She let Lily continue chronicling her worldly adventures. She had accomplished making a difference in various people’s lives, and, in turn, had made a huge difference in her own. This was not the same young lady that had introduced Raquel to the college party world some years ago.

“I’m happy to see that you were staying out of touch for good reason,” Raquel chimed in. “Outside of the occasional email, I’ve barely heard from you.”

“Oh, yeah.” Lily paused to search her mind for a valid response. “I was on the road and constantly ripping and running. I lost my phone during my first trip to South America and never bothered to replace it.”

Liliana knew her friend well enough know that she was fishing for an explanation, but their former sister-wife relationship status was not something she cared to revisit.

Raquel nodded her understanding. “So where’s your next stop?”

“I’m thinking of staying here for a while. I know that I need to get back in school, so I’m thinking I’ll camp here for a bit and buckle down.” Lily’s voice was filled with great excitement. “It’s been long enough, and with more education, I think I can be of better service. Make longer strides.”

“Where will you be staying?”

“I don’t know yet. I haven’t set my decision to stay in stone,” Lily explained. “It’s just something that I’m seriously considering.”

“Well, you have a place with me if you want,” Raquel offered.

Lily stared at Raquel blankly. “Aren’t you still seeing Marcus?”

“Yes, but that happened years ago, right? I think it’s safe to say that there’s no hard feelings?” Raquel’s eyes narrowed slightly as she attempted to probe. “You left us without any warning, but you and I were friends first, so it’s fine, right?”

Lily knew that she would have to address this at some point with Raquel, and now would have to be the time if they were to move on.

“There couldn’t be any hard feelings,” she sighed. “I left without giving you all closure, and I’m sorry for that. I didn’t know how to break it off. I didn’t know how to tell you that I didn’t want to be involved in that lifestyle anymore.”

Raquel nodded. “Good. I’m glad you got that out. I wasn’t happy about the lifestyle either, but I fell hard for Marcus, and would have him anyway he wanted to give himself to me. I guess things worked out for the best.”

“Yeah, I suppose they did,” Lily replied pensively. “I’ll know the details later. Things are a little unstable right now. I’d need to find a job, and I don’t know if I’m ready to get back on the grid.” She laughed, wanting to lighten the mood.

“I have a few contacts on campus. Just let me know what you want to do,” Raquel replied.

The rest of their dinner went on without incident. Any concerns Raquel had prior to hanging out with her oldest friend were soon set at ease.

*****

Lily was a goddess in the kitchen. She’d learned her cooking techniques from her deep African, Latina roots, combined with her worldly travels. This morning she’d made fuba cake, bacon, and small minas sandwiches on French bread.

Together, they sat and talked over breakfast. This was the first time the three of them had sat together since Lily moved in, and it was not at all the way she’d imagined it would be. She wondered if Raquel knew how her monogamous relationship had come to pass, as she had never disclosed the true reasoning behind her abrupt departure.

“Alright, I have to get ready for work,” Lily sighed. She leaned back in her chair, rubbing at her slightly bulging stomach. “I’m so full.”

Raquel hummed in agreement. “Oh my goodness, breakfast was amazing. Thank you so much, Lily.”

Marcus and Raquel begin to clear the table while Lily disappeared to her room to get together for work.

“Where were you yesterday?” Raquel asked once she heard Lily’s door close behind her. “I needed you, and I didn’t hear from you all day, but you sent James a message. What’s up with that?”

Marcus laughed nervously, a lie spilling effortlessly from his lips. “I had some things to do. I knew that I would see you later, so when James told me he was going to pick you up, I didn’t think I would have to contact you.”

“If you say so.” Raquel shrugged and headed to her room, Marcus following close behind. “What’s up with you lately? I feel like you’re just blowing me off.”

“I’m not blowing you off. I’m sorry,” he said, pulling her back towards him. “It won’t happen again,” he promised, kissing the back of her neck.

She felt like she was letting him off too easy. “Marcus, I’m serious. I don’t like this feeling I’m getting. Tell me I’m wrong.” She turned to face him.

“You couldn’t be furthest off mark,” he replied. His dark eyes were warming and sincere. “Trust me,” he reassured her. The way he seductively bit his bottom lip gave Raquel a tingle between her thighs. She turned away and continued to her bedroom.

Before he could close the door behind them, Raquel pushed him back against it. They slowly started to kiss and undress one another. She continued to fuss at him between their kisses. Marcus lifted Raquel off her feet and she wrapped her legs around his thick waist.

Together, they fell onto the bed, their arms and legs tangled, their fingers intertwined. Raquel used her hips to grind and tease the tip of his long, thick dick. Marcus joined the game of cat and mouse by rubbing his fat head at the slobbering mouth of her hungry pussy, biting at her nipples. She, in turn, bit his shoulder to muffle her moans of anticipation.

*****

Lily could hear the passion mounting in her friend’s room. She sized herself up in the mirror, rubbing up and down over her slight curves. Her fingers traced over her B-cups and down her flat stomach. She then turned her back to the mirror and peered over her shoulder to glimpse at her small, heart shaped ass.

She was a petite young woman, only around five feet tall, but she was still shapely and gorgeous by anyone’s standards. Her hair was naturally bronzed and light brown, and her tawny skin was freckled, but always appeared to be gently sun kissed.

“Thirty-two, twenty-two, thirty-eight,” Lily whispered, “and still single. But maybe not for long.”

She rolled her eyes and continued to dress, the sounds of pleasure increasing from across the hall.

“I gotta get out of here,” she muttered, quickly finishing up and heading out the door.

*****

Lily sat in her chair at work in a daze. Thoughts of a night of passion raced through her mind as she stared at the never-ending figures and dates on her computer screen.

“What’s the matter?” Howard, Lily’s coworker, asked from over her cubicle wall. “You seem listless lately. Wanna talk about it?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Just tired from the move, you know?” Lily replied. She couldn’t help but roll her eyes. Howard had been trying to get closer to Lily since she’d started working with him, and she began to type feverishly in the hopes that he would leave her work space. As if on cue, he nodded and disappeared back into his cubicle. A few moments later, Lily’s phone rang.

“Hey girl!” Raquel’s voice sounded on the other end of the line. “You almost ready for lunch?”

“No,” Lily whined. “I actually forgot about our lunch date, Raquel! I’m sorry, girl. I have a lunch date with an old friend I ran into when I moved back up here.”

“Ah, yes. I remember you mentioning that you ran into a few folks last week. Is this going to be your first date?”

“Yeah, sort of. We’ve seen each other in passing a few times already, but this is the first time he’s asked me to actually sit down and get comfortable,” Lily responded awkwardly. “I don’t want to talk about him much though. At least until I know he’s serious.”

“Ok, well, can I at least know his name?” Raquel pressed.

Lily laughed. “I don’t want to jinx it! Now let me finish up so I can meet him for lunch,” she said playfully, ending the conversation.

Lily had started to grow slightly tired of Raquel. It had only been a few weeks, but living with her had been a huge adjustment. They already spent a lot of time together, and sometimes Lily needed to breathe. She decided to push those thoughts aside for a moment and think of her friend instead.

Lily shut down her computer and walked towards the bathroom. Her silk stockings turned her on as they rubbed together with each step. When she got to the bathroom, she slipped into the handicapped stall and pulled her panties off, slipping them over her thigh high stockings. She dipped her middle finger into her pussy to see how wet she was, then folded her panties and placed them neatly in her purse before heading off to her lunch date.

*****

It was thirty minutes into lunch when Lily began to second guess her decision to go on a date with her old friend. His phone had been buzzing nonstop since they’d sat down. It wasn’t until about an hour into their lunch that he decided to turn it off completely.

Lily gently stroked his hand over the table and bit her bottom lip. “Last night was great. It’s too bad we couldn’t share this morning as well,” she whispered. He smirked in response. There was an awkward silence thereafter. It seemed like they didn’t have much to discuss, but Lily was determined to change that.

Their food came, and Lily attempted to strike up a conversation about her culinary prowess. He was intrigued, and bantered about his own, which led into a conversation about competition, and then, of course, the competition turned into a conversation about sex.

She absently checked the time and realized just how much it had gotten away from her. She didn’t mind though. She was enjoying herself, and knew that Howard would cover for her if she asked, so she sent him a text.

 

Howard, I had an emergency and can’t make it back in today. Cover for me, please? I’ll owe you one!

 

As Lily sent off the text message to Howard, she noticed that she also had a message from Raquel, but decided to read it later.

“You want to walk me to my car?” Lily asked him. Her date kindly obliged.

“Where did you park?”

“I like to park in the parking deck down the street so I don’t have to chase the meter.”

As they neared her car, he stopped Lily in her tracks for a deep kiss. His hand palmed her behind and pulled her in closer.

“No panties?” he asked with a sly, knowing grin.

Lily shook her head and slowly walked backwards to her car. He slipped his fingers into her skirt’s waistband and walked with her. Once they reached Lily’s car, he pressed her against it and lifted one of her legs. She could feel his thickness through his pants, rubbing on her clit.

Lily’s body dripped in response to his advances, her nails digging into his shoulders. He unzipped his pants and she lifted her skirt around her waist. He then lifted her against her car and proceeded to slide into her warm pussy.

What if someone saw them? What if the police passed?

Lily was more than focused on pleasing her renewed lover. She moaned quietly as her heart pounded with lust. It was around three o’clock in the afternoon. Anyone could walk past at any moment, but neither of them cared.

Lily let her body relax as her date took slow thrusts in and out. She could feel his dick throbbing inside of her as he approached a moment of climax, so she squeezed her thighs around his waist and pushed her hips forward so they could climax together, his pelvis crushing Lily’s clit with every pump.

The phone buzzed again.

“Damn, I thought you turned your phone off!” Lily snapped, exasperated. She was only a few more strokes from having an orgasm when they were interrupted. Lily dropped her legs. “I mean really, what are we doing here?”

“You know how it is baby.”

“I thought we were going to get serious. That things were going to change. What’s up? You said this morning that‒‒”

“I need time, that’s all,” he interrupted, knowing that this would be their last date. He scoffed and zipped his pants. “I’ll see you tonight, alright?”

“That’s not an answer, babe.” Lily grabbed his shoulders to maintain eye contact, but his eyes darted around her head. He quickly pecked her on the lips, then pulled away and headed to his car.

“I’ll call you, baby,” he called over his shoulder before he turned around to smile at Lily. She couldn’t help but smile back.

*****

“Hey, love. I’ve been trying to reach you since you left this afternoon. Call me when you can. Love you.”

Raquel left yet another message for Marcus. She hadn’t been able to reach him since he’d left for work after their make-up sex that morning.

She ran her fingers over her face, then rested her head on the table. Something had been off with Marcus lately, but she couldn’t put her finger on what was going on. He’d become more distant since Lily’s return. He’d expressed his objection upon Lily’s arrival, but it seemed as though he was starting to come around.

Lily walked in and dropped her keys on the table, startling Raquel from her daze.

“Hey,” Lily said dryly.

“Hey,” Raquel replied, offering her a weak smile.

“Did you find anything to do?” Lily asked.

“Nope. I couldn’t reach Marcus for some reason, so I got kinda bored. I should have started studying,” she said with a chuckle. “That’s what I really need to focus on.”

“Doesn’t he working during the day?”

“Yeah, but he’s been acting a little strange lately.”

“Girl, you’re crazy. Marcus would be miserable without you. He must’ve been busy, that’s all.”

“Yeah, maybe I’m tripping. Anyway, how was your date?” Raquel asked, quickly changing the subject.

“It was a little bumpy at first,” Lily admitted. “His ex-girl kept calling him while we were eating, but she eventually stopped.”

“Oh, wow. At least he didn’t pick up. What could she have wanted?”

Lily shrugged. “Who knows. He’s supposed to be moving the rest of his things out of her place soon, but he didn’t say when.”

“Talk about obsessive,” Raquel joked.

“Right?” Lily averted her gaze. “So, anyway, after she stopped calling, we were okay. And before we parted ways, we had sex in the parking lot!”

“You did what? Where? In your car?”

“No, outside of it! It was so thrilling and exhilarating. And you know what?” Lily mused. “I think your timid self should try to spice it up with Marcus if you think he’s drifting.”

“You must have missed our morning performance,” Raquel retorted, shaking her head and narrowing her eyes. “What I need to do is focus on my studies. I think everything will start to fall into place then. What are you doing tonight?”

Lily smiled. “I’m supposed to meet with my friend again.”

“Marcus is taking me to the movies tonight. I would love for you two to join us,” Raquel offered.

“It’s too soon for you guys to meet, but soon. I promise.”

With that, Lily disappeared into her bedroom. Raquel sat quietly and played with her fingers while she stared at her phone. After several minutes of silence and racing thoughts, she got up to retrieve some books from her room. When she came back to the table, she saw that she had two messages. The first was from James.

 

We can pick up your car tomorrow.

 

            The other was from Marcus.

 

Hey baby. Busy day today. Be ready by 9. Ily.

 

Raquel sighed with relief, and was able to get her head back in her books for a while before she decided to get ready.

*****

Two hours into studying and Raquel was ready to put her books to rest and start getting ready. She waited for the bathroom to get extra steamy before she stepped into the shower. While she showered, she contemplated possible outfits.

By eight-thirty, Raquel had her curly, jet black hair pulled back with a banana clip. She left a few curls lingering around her round face, then got dressed. She put on the large, rose gold, hoop earrings Marcus had bought her for their first Valentine’s Day together, then slipped into her orange lace bra and pantie set. The color bounced nicely off her glowing skin.

Ordinarily, Raquel would ask Lily to choose between the two outfits laid out on her bed, but she was off on her date.

Fifteen minutes into crunch time, she heard Marcus walk into the house. Raquel settled on the dark green, ankle length sundress with the deep orange belt, and a pair of wicker wedges.

Marcus hummed loudly when Raquel stepped out from her room. She bounced into his arms with excitement.

“Let’s go, Miss Delicious.” He leaned in for a passionate kiss. “You look great! Maybe we should skip the movie,” he joked, squeezing her round behind.

“I have an idea,” she replied as she pushed him away. “There’s this place I wanted to try in the city. It’s a speakeasy. You down?”

He smiled and took her hand. “Let’s go.”

 

Chapter 3

 

“Aren’t we a little dressed up?” Marcus joked. “What kind of hot dog do you want?”

Raquel giggled and swung open the door. “Just follow me,” she said, heading towards a phone booth in the corner of the small restaurant.

“Um, ok.” Marcus paused at the door of the phone booth. “Are we superman now?”

Raquel ignored his skepticism and pushed the back of the booth open, revealing a stairwell.

“It’s a speakeasy, silly,” she said with a sneaky smile. Marcus turned around to survey the store behind them. True indeed, the place he saw was one that sold hot dogs. There was a couple standing at the counter ordering chili dogs and coke floats. He turned back to face Raquel, meeting her glare.

“Ok, ok,” he said, hesitantly following her up the dimly lit stairwell. At the top of the stairs they were met with another door, the muffled music pouring out to meet them as Raquel opened the door.

Plush couches and chairs were well placed under dim, romantic lighting. In the opposite corner there was a dance floor, a small stage, and a microphone.

“Thanks for taking me out tonight, babe,” Raquel said. She couldn’t stop grinning as she turned to Marcus, leaning in for a kiss. Her kisses always managed to take his breath away.

Marcus led her to a small table near the stage. After they had sat for a few minutes, Marcus excused himself to get them drinks from the bar.

He enjoyed the idea of going to a speakeasy, and decided that Raquel had done a great job in picking out the bar. He wondered how many of these were in the city, and even considered bringing his new friend to this hidden treasure.

“Hey, funny seeing you here. Are you here alone?”

Marcus turned away from the bar toward the familiar voice, seeing the very person he’d been thinking of.

“What are you doing here?” he hissed, grabbing his friend by the arm. “Did you follow me? I told you I would be with Raquel tonight. She can’t see us here.”

His friend gently stroked his collar, leaned in close, and nibbled on his ear. From the corner of his eye, he could see Raquel picking around in her purse. Even with Raquel being nearby, he felt a tingle in his manhood. He had known that his friend was disrespectful, but damn.

As his friend stroked him slowly through his trousers, Marcus whispered, “Not here. Not now. Just meet me in the bathroom if you want to talk, but you can’t stay. If you do, you cannot speak to my girl.”

There was only a nod in response. With that, his friend disappeared into the bathroom. Marcus walked back to his awaiting beauty. There was an awkward silence as he played with his drink.

“Are you alright?” Raquel asked.

“Yeah, I’m alright. I feel like dancing. You want to hit the dance floor when I get back from taking a leak?” Marcus asked, intentionally being crass when choosing his words.

Raquel laughed him off and told him that she would wait eagerly for his return.

*****

Marcus rushed to the bathroom to meet his friend. When he cracked the bathroom door to see if she was inside, he was grabbed by the collar and pushed against the sink. They made out for several minutes, but it didn’t last long. Marcus was bad at controlling his impulses, and before he could stop himself, his dick was out and in his friend’s mouth.

“You should have never come here,” he said as he forcefully gagged his subordinate. Marcus made circles with his hips, hitting the back of his friend’s throat. “Come on and take it, bitch.”

He continued with the mouth fucking and perhaps it was for too long.

There was a knock at the door, Raquel’s voice filtering in through the wood. “Marcus, are you in there?”

For a moment, Marcus couldn’t stop his pleasure long enough to answer. He just kept on going.

Raquel rattled the door knob. “Babe?”

“Yeah, I’m almost done,” he responded through gritted teeth. His chicken dinner seized the opportunity and mounted him on the sink, moving slow and steady with even strokes. Marcus was close to climax, his body starting to writhe in an effort to keep his cool. He grabbed on tight and gave one final thrust, holding it in while he ejaculated.

He almost felt bad as he pushed his friend’s head down to clean off his dick. He groaned a little bit before he called out to Raquel to see if she was still outside the door. She was, and her concerned tone had begun to sound more like annoyance.

“Babe, what’s going on? You’ve been in there a while,” Raquel called. She kept tugging at the door. “Are you going to let me in or what?”

“Chill out, baby. Don’t make a scene. I’m using the damn bathroom,” he called back. Marcus knew this was wrong, but his new friend felt so good. Now he was stuck in the bathroom with a grinning side piece. When she finished polishing his hard penis, she tried to give him a kiss. He replied with a palm to the face.

Marcus turned to face the mirror, running some cool water to splash on his face and genitals. “Baby, please go get me some seltzer and lemon. I’m coming out now. I’m not feeling too well.”

There was silence from the other side of the door as he rinsed his face and then wiped his dick. He found himself slowly jerking off as he wiped it clean.

“Okay,” Raquel replied.

Okay,” his friend mocked.

“What?” Raquel called back.

“What?” Marcus responded, glaring at his toy. Something about what he was doing was such a turn on that, even in the worst-case scenario, he couldn’t help but lust after the lips causing him so much trouble. He pushed down his side piece’s head and slid his dick into those succulent lips. His eyes rolled with pleasure.

“Babe,” he groaned, “I’m really not feeling well. Can you get the seltzer for me? I’ll meet you at the table.”

“Okay, baby. Do you want to just head home?” Raquel replied hesitantly.

“No. I just need a few minutes,” he said, stalling.

When the coast was clear, his friend stood up. “She’s too passive. I would have gotten into this bathroom if you were my man.”

“Shut up and remember your place,” Marcus quietly reminded her. “You know what this is, and you shouldn’t even be here. Raquel is going to be my wife.”

“That’s why you’re in here fucking me, right?”

“Nah, I’m fucking you cuz you let me. That mouth and them walls are super tight, always ready for me.” Marcus adjusted his collar and smugly stared at his friend through the mirror.

“You’re a piece of shit. How you gonna play me like that?”

“This little fling was your idea,” he answered. “Remember that. I wouldn’t have touched you if you hadn’t been so convincing.”

“Fuck you. I’m leaving and you’re going to miss me, like you always do.”

“Thanks,” Marcus said. “And don’t let Raquel see you leaving.”

*****

Marcus returned to his table to find Raquel texting. She was still annoyed.

“I think we should go home,” Raquel muttered. She was disappointed in the direction the night was going in.

Marcus disregarded Raquel’s demeanor. He knew that she would loosen up after a few drinks.

“Nah, let’s just sit and enjoy ourselves.”

His eyes swiveled nervously around the room, and, to his benefit, his little friend was nowhere in sight. He sipped his seltzer and bantered over the sultry woman singing on the stage. Eventually, Raquel relaxed and enjoyed the music and ambience, glad they’d stayed. They danced and laughed for a while until Raquel abruptly stopped and raced across the dance floor.

“Lily! Ayvri! What are you guys doing here?” Raquel called as she embraced her friends tightly. Marcus remained across the room, somewhat perplexed. “Lily, I thought you were going to be with your mystery man tonight.”

“Girl, he can’t hang,” Lily replied. The ladies shared a laugh while Raquel eyed Ayvri. She hadn’t seen Ayvri since the trio had graduated high school and started college. She had started to fill out, curves and all.

“Long time no see, Ayvri. Looking good.” Raquel turned her attention to her old friend as they hugged once more. “That’s my boyfriend, Marcus.” She motioned for Marcus to join her and her friends across the room.

Lily watched Marcus seductively as he sauntered across the room, observing him as he shifted his feet, standing before them. She could tell that there was something amiss. Perhaps it was the semester and a half they’d spent in a relationship that clued her in, but she ignored it.

She drunkenly used her tongue to play with her straw and disappeared into her own world. She wondered if she could get Raquel to share a little tonight. It’s not as if they hadn’t shared the man before. As she twisted the straw around in her mouth, she pictured Marcus’ large frame in the nude.

“Hey girl, you alright?” Ayvri asked, breaking Lily’s trance. “What are you thinking about?”

“Oh, nothing.” Lily returned from space and joined in the idle chat. Amid their conversation, Lily noticed that Marcus was being a little short. She had a pretty good idea why, but she continued to dismiss her thoughts and moved out onto the dance floor.

For the rest of the night, Lily danced with Ayvri and Raquel danced with Marcus. Last call quickly approached, so the group stumbled down the narrow stairwell and tried to hail a cab.

The wind whipped through Lily’s locks as she leaned against Ayvri. They were so close that, had Lily not been shorter, their noses would be touching. Thunder cracked in the distance, lightning illuminating the street and closing the space between the unlikely pair. Ayvri gripped Lily’s hips and leaned in for a kiss while Marcus and Raquel observed in disbelief.

“So, when did all of this happen?” Raquel inquired.

“All of what?” Lily replied coyly.

Raquel’s hands framed their bodies. “This.”

“Oh, me and Lily?” Ayvri asked nonchalantly. “We ran into one another about a month ago. Given how things went down a few years ago, I thought we all could ease ourselves into renewing our friendship, which is why I didn’t tell you.”

Raquel scoffed. “No,” she corrected Ayvri. “It’s been too long since we all hung out with one another. I’m hoping that by now we’re over that whole messy situation. After all, Lily and I were able to move on. We can too,” she declared.

Lily, Raquel, and Ayvri had been best friends since they were children. When Marcus and Raquel decided to move on to a monogamous relationship, Ayvri had taken Lily’s side. It had been a big blow up all around.

“Anyway, we can have a heart-to-heart another time.” Raquel offered a weak smile and reached out for Ayvri’s hand. “I’m hoping that, by now, we’ve all moved on.”

“We have,” Ayvri agreed.

They eventually hailed a cab. Marcus motioned towards Lily and Ayvri to hop in first.

“It’s okay you two,” Lily said. “I think we’re going to stay in the city for the night.” She giggled and fell into Ayvri’s arms as Ayvri brushed back the loose hair blowing in Lily’s face, holding her close. They swayed in unison while the thunder boomed and the wind hissed. Even with the tempest closing in, Lily had never felt so at ease.

The next cab arrived soon after Marcus and Raquel’s had left, and Lily and Ayvri headed to the other side of Manhattan together. The city was still bustling all around them, and Lily was feeling triumphant, like she could conquer anything. She leaned in and sensually kissed Ayvri’s neck. She then directed the cab driver to Seventh Avenue and Seventeenth Street.

*****

Marcus and Raquel cuddled in the backseat of their cab as the wind whipped in though the open windows. The air blowing around Raquel’s bare shoulders caused her to move closer to Marcus, seeking warmth. He linked his hands into hers and took in the fresh night air. If he hadn’t feel it before, he felt so much now that Raquel was the woman he would spend the rest of his life with.

He recounted the events of the evening and understood now more than ever that he was making a grave mistake. The couple had overcome a lot of drama already, yet he continued to violate Raquel’s trust. He vowed he would not do it anymore.

They got out of the cab in the middle of the square and headed to the parking garage. Marcus gripped Raquel’s hand, and together they weaved in and out of the busy crowd.

The lower level of the garage was cool and soothing against Marcus’ numb face. He opened the passenger door for Raquel and meandered to the driver’s side as his phone chirped in his pocket. He pulled it out to find a text message waiting for him.

 

Meet me in two hours.

 

He scoffed and clicked off his phone.

They rode back to Raquel’s house mostly in silence, the occasional gaze of adoration passing between the two. Marcus had a lot on his mind during the ride home, deciding that his romp in the restroom with his friend would be his last. He glanced over at a dozing Raquel and knew for sure he would have to resist any further advances.

As he pulled into Raquel’s driveway, he felt relieved that Lily and Ayvri had decided to stay in the city. The storm had begun to kick up, a thick mist of rain beating his car. It gave Marcus the overwhelming want to whisk Raquel away into an unforgettable night of romance.

As he got out of his car, the heavy mist became a deluge. Marcus ran to Raquel’s side of the car and snatched her from the passenger’s seat. Raquel was startled, but amused, and erupted with laughter when he tossed her over his shoulder and ran to the front door.

Marcus was captivated by Raquel’s appearance as he set her on her feet on the doorstep. Her loose-fitting dress was soaked and clung to her curves, rain dripping down her bronzed, velvet cheek bones and stretching her curly hair to her shoulders.

He got the apartment door open. Once inside, they slowly undressed each other and headed to the shower. He looked at her and felt insatiable. He made love to her until the sun peaked through her windows.

*****

James had not spoken to Marcus since the night he’d dropped Raquel off at her house. He kept checking his phone, but the only message he had received was from Raquel asking about her car. Three days has passed, and the only other person he had communicated with was his uncle. His other friends were immersed in either work or school, and Marcus, his closest friend, was busy trying to keep his lies straight.

He usually enjoyed spending time alone, but he was starting to feel lonely, and decided that it was time to make a change, as well as some new connections.

When their little group had graduated from high school, the inseparable friends had gone their own ways, but remained close. James still lived in the same urban area of town that he’d grown up in. He’d attended college out of state, and had received his degree in Business. Once he’d graduated, he returned to his uncle’s home.

Still, he felt inadequate waiting around for someone great to come into his life, so he thought joining a dating site might get the ball rolling. He scrolled through the app for about twenty minutes. The trouble was that not many of the profiles were eye catching, and if they were, the person lived too far away.

He continued to scroll until he finally found someone of interest.

 

 

 

Ayvri D.

Interests Turn-offs Random
Sports Kids Me: Tall & slender
Cooking NWF – It’s not a sport! You: Tall & Athletic

The only downside was that there was no profile photo of Ayvri, but James had not posted his photo yet either, so he went on with sending a message. After surfing the personals website a while longer and sending out a few more messages, he went to bed. There was a lot to be done the following day, starting with heading over to Raquel’s house to drop off her car.

*****

James woke up to ten emails from the website. He was excited about the prospects, but decided to shower and get his day started first. He came downstairs to see a half-naked Estelle, his uncle’s new girlfriend, in the kitchen. James couldn’t help but openly cringe, as the woman was much older than he was. She looked good for her age, however, sex with a senior citizen had never been on his list of turn-ons.

“Don’t be starin’ at me like that, James, less ya young ass want some lessons,” joked Estelle as she swung her hips from side to side.

“No. No thank you,” James mumbled. In addition to wanting a companion, he also surmised that it was time to get his own apartment.

Estelle chuckled and passed James a plate of food. “Here you go, baby,” she said. “I gotta hurry back to your uncle before he gets cold!”

James thanked her and hurried into the dining room as she shuffled up the stairs. He scrolled through his inbox as he ate. There were no messages from Ayvri just yet, but Tiffany had responded, and Tylinn, Alissa, and Jordan had responded as well. He was both pleased, and surprised.

He finished his breakfast and proceeded to reply to his messages, not sure if he would set up any dates as of yet.

*****

James got dressed and drove his car to his uncle’s repair shop. It had been three days since he’d brought Raquel’s car in to his uncle for a prognosis, but just like last time, his uncle noted the age of the car as the main issue. From there, he got into Raquel’s car and was on his way to return it to her.

He had not spoken much to either Marcus or Raquel since the day he’d picked her up, and when he saw Marcus’ car in Raquel’s driveway, James felt like the air had been taken from his chest. While he knew that it was highly likely that Marcus would be there, he was still not in the mood for conversation.

Before he could reach the door, Marcus came zipping out of the entry and down the stairs. There was a short greeting between the two young men, and then an awkward silence.

“I’ve been thinking about everything you said, man,” Marcus began. “I’m going to go end it now and forge towards a future with Raquel.”

James nodded. “That’s what’s up, bro. I’m glad.”

“Quick question though. When you saw me at the restaurant the other night, did you see who I was with?”

James felt the awkwardness in his friend’s question, but answered nonetheless. “No, not really. I didn’t really stare y’all down to see what was what. Why?”

“Plausible deniability. Anyway, I’m putting together a surprise dinner for Raquel so I can propose.”

“Damn, bro!” James’ incredulity turned to surprise, his attention diverted from Marcus’ original question. “So you gonna stop messing around now? That’s it?”

“C’mon, man.” Marcus feigned offense and nudged James’ arm. “You bringing a date, or you need one, you ole lonely ass?”

“I don’t know yet. I got some things working right now,” James said as he rubbed his palms together. “Why? You never seemed to mind me flying solo before.”

“Nah. Raquel’s roommate, Lily, has been moping around since she moved back up here. Y’all would be the perfect pair.”

“She better not be ugly,”

“No,  actually. She’s damn fine.”

James gave him the side eye, but decided to go out on a limb with Marcus and give her a try. “She better not be a hoe, man.”

Marcus only scoffed. “I’ll let you know when and where the dinner will be. Thanks again for taking care of my angel’s car. I’m gonna buy her a new one when she says ‘yes’. You need a ride back?”

“Nah, I’m good. I’m about to catch up with Raq and ask her about this Lily girl you’re trying to push on me.”

“You don’t have to ask her about Lily. Just trust me and come on.”

James was a little disappointed that he couldn’t stay and talk to Raquel like he’d planned, but he could sense that Marcus wasn’t hearing anything about them hanging out without him.

He ran inside to find Raquel standing in the kitchen, once again noting how lucky Marcus was to have Raquel’s heart. She always seemed to glow, and he admired her pleasant disposition.

James tossed her the keys and told her to call him later. Raquel caught the keys, but James’ was gone before she had the chance to reply.

On his way out, James’ phone buzzed. It was a message from Ayvri asking for a photo. When he got settled in Marcus’ car, he quickly obliged. Marcus and James were practically silent the entire ride back to James’ house. James was too busy messaging Ayvri.

“You want to go out for a beer?” Marcus asked, breaking the silence.

“Not tonight. I have a date.”

“With who? I was just about to hook you up with Lily.”

“You still can. I’m just exploring my options.”

They were finally in front of James’ uncle’s shop. He thanked Marcus and hopped out before he could ask any more questions.  Ayvri sent James another message asking him to meet, but did not send him a picture. Despite his apprehension, he decided to move forward with meeting her at a sports bar.

*****

James was fairly nervous as he sat at the bar, waiting for Ayvri’s arrival. After what seemed like an eternity, he felt a tap on his shoulder. When he turned around, he frowned.

“What’s wrong?” Ayvri asked. “Not what you expected? By the end of the night, I’ll change your mind.”

She gently touched James’ cheek, but James politely leaned back. He stared at Ayvri for a few moments before he said, “Nah, I’m not interested.”

“Just chill,” Ayvri said. “We can watch the game then call it a night, or we can part ways now and you’ll never know how good a friend I can be.”

“Yeah,” James replied. “That ain’t a bad idea.” That being said, he grabbed his jacket and left.

Ayvri took the empty seat and ordered a drink. This was going to be far more difficult than she’d anticipated.

 

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