Valentina Bound - Book 1

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FUBAR

I walk in to find a note on my computer screen from Jessica, asking me to come straight to her offices when I get in. Everyone seems to be aware of the note and I am suddenly self conscious of them all hovering around and whispering. I am hoping this pertains to the email I sent with the attachment of my piece, and not something I have gotten myself in trouble for over the weekend.

“Come in and close the door behind you.” Jessica doesn’t look up from what is in front of her as she is talking to me.

I close the door and take a seat in front of her, trying hard not to look at what she is so engrossed with in front of her. There are a lot of red marks on the paper, of course my eyes glaze past it as I look at the photos on her desk. I know I have seen them all so many times, but this time I actually take a closer look. Waiting patiently until I am spoken to, I try not to fidget. There are several family photos all around her office, you can tell that she and her family are close. These are not posed photos but great snap shots of their lives. Family vacations and significant events such as graduations and weddings. Jessica is one of four girls, she grew up in Boston, eldest daughter of a successful and prominent family. I see that two of her sisters are married and all of them have graduated college. Her parents are still together and she has a nephew by the sister below her and and a niece by the third daughter. Her baby sister is dating a man that is very East Coast Prep, they seem very happy, and from the amount of times he is in the photograph over the years, they have been together a while. If I am to guess, Jessica is married to her career and doesn’t seem to have a boyfriend at the moment. At least there are no photos to support that she might.

“I read your piece and as you can see, I’ve edited it.”

I am happy and disappointed at the same time. I know I have a lot to learn about being a writer, but as I mentioned before, there is a lot of red on the page. Apparently one of the lessons here is swallowing my pride. There is no room for an ego when you are writing. It’s not just me reading what I write, so I will always start with my message and thoughts, but most likely end in a compromise between Jessica and myself, the Gods willing I get that far in my journalism career.

“You have potential. I want you to take this and see if you can learn from my notes. I also suggest that you take some writing classes this next year outside of your English Lit curriculum. I have also listed at the bottom a few books you may want to read to help you improve your skills. And really, the best advice I can give is, read everything, especially magazine articles. It is a different voice from novels to text books. Keep it up and keep sending me your writing over this next year. I am interested in seeing how you can grow.” She hands me my pages, smiles warmly at me and nods towards the door.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet.” This time her smile is friendly and almost playful.

Everyone is waiting for me to say something, as I mentioned earlier, we are all fighting for “mommy’s” attention. I don’t want to seem like I am a favorite and plus, this is my pet project and I want to keep all of this to myself. Instead I ask everyone about their weekend. As expected, everyone is more than eager to share their life. I am trying to get them to like me more, sharing in my overly ambitious stunt may hurt that.

As everyone starts their work day, I take a moment to look over Jessica’s notes. At first it’s all overwhelming and discouraging. I scan the pages and email it to Benji. If I keep staring at it, I will talk myself out of actually learning from it. Benji is three hours behind so I won’t hear anything for awhile. I decide to tackle my inbox first, then I offer to do the first coffee run, I need to take a walk and catch my breath. Get out of my self destructive head.

“This is great.” Benji finally responds.

“How is that?”

“First of all, she read it. Second, she didn’t throw it away. And finally, these notes are great. I know it looks overwhelming at first, but if you clear you head and look at this without anxiety, you will see how these suggestions will make your already good writing even better. Take each line, one at a time. Don’t be afraid to ask her or me any questions on the notes that you don’t understand. Remember, in coding, sometimes a different set of eyes can solve a block.”

I hate that Benji is so pragmatic. He is a tech geek, he sees problems, he solves them. He is mushy when it comes to the matter of the heart. Otherwise, he is all mathematics.

“Yes father, I will do as you say.”

“Funny. Get to work, I can’t wait to see the final product.”

“Thanks Benji!”

“Anytime, love.”

Benji does know how to put my head back on straight. I follow his advice and decide to work on these pages after everyone leaves for the day. It takes me staying late a few nights to get through Jessica’s notes and hear what it is she is wanting from me. I am a shitty listener when someone is verbal with me, I am worse when I am trying to translate their message with only my twisted mind “talking”. I do reach out to Benji several times, don’t quite have the courage yet to reach out to Jessica herself. Thursday night I send Benji the re-write. Friday morning, he gives me rave reviews. I send it back to Jessica and cross my fingers. Before lunch she responds, “better.” I channel Benji and find the positive in her response. So do I re-write this again or start on a new piece? I decide to finally take Benji’s advice and ask Jessica. She responds by sending me back my re-write with half as many red on the page. Improvement, I will take it.

We are finally getting the weekend off, after several weeks of obligations. Not that I am complaining, I have experienced this city in ways I know few get the chance. Karen, Susan and David are planning away in Karen’s cubical behind me. In case I am not invited, I pretend not to know what is going on.

"Are you coming?" Karen asks over our cubicle divider.

"Where are you all going?"

"FUBAR," offers David.

"What's the story behind the name of that bar?"

"It's an acronym, Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition." Susan clarifies.

"Well that doesn't sound like the brightest idea, so, shall we then?" With a name like that, this will surely end as one of many regretful moments, but you only live once.

We walk into a packed bar that is made up of three rooms. The main room has high tables and stools placed all around and a huge bar. Now that’s a bar top I can dance on. Another room has two pool tables and a jukebox, I am really liking this place. The third room has a fire pit and couches all around, a pseudo courtyard with a retractable roof, well, manually but cool still. All that is missing is a dance floor, but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad.

The owner, Arune, is a beautiful pure bread Native American with gorgeous long black hair and skin like cinnamon. Too bad I have a strict rule about dating or sleeping with staff of great bars. Maybe on my last night in town. Before we can even order, Arune lines up tequila shots. Now I know why this place is called FUBAR, because the owner makes it his goal in life to help you forget your day. Watching him all night is like seeing a master at work. Arune isn’t the Cocktails kind of bartender, no fancy bottle juggling, it is his pure attention to details that makes you feel like so special. He manages to work the entire bar with just two bar backs. He knows all the regulars and gets to know our names pretty quickly. It feels like none of our glasses are ever empty. No fighting to get your order in. Like everyone in the place just knows that he knows and all they have to do is stand there and enjoy their night. It’s almost like musical theater; everyone playing their part and the night is well rehearsed. Even us newbies are easily read in and fall easily into the roles of happy drunk customers.

I remember moving from the bar to the couches. From the couches to the pool tables. Then everything else became a blur rather quickly. I am officially, Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. The drunker I got, the more I opened up. Of course, not remembering anything I said. Oh God, this is why I don’t let myself drink like this. Now everyone here will know too much about me. What if I make a total ass of myself? What if I share stores of me escapades? I don’t want any of them thinking less of me.

“Maybe it makes you more human and relatable, my little robot.” Benji’s voice in my head.

In the morning, I wake-up naked in bed with a note.

"You are quite an interesting lady, I wouldn't mind getting to know you better. Call me, Nate 718-729-1649."

Who was Nate? And how did I end up naked in bed? I remember lots of shots, playing pool. And come to think of it, I now remember dancing on the bar and waiting in line for a kabob. Everything is a blank, I don't even remember getting or eating the kabob. I only know I did coz I can still taste it in my mouth, ewe! I definitely don’t remember talking to anyone named Nate. In all of my years as a creature of the night, I have never blanked on a night. I am really feeling uneasy in this moment. I close my eyes to try and my hardest to pull any more moments from the night. I can see a lot of blurry faces, but I can’t remember any conversations to determine any of their names or anything I might have said to them or them to me. I start to hyperventilate. This is completely out of character, even for me. I take a few deep breaths to settle my nerves, trying my hardest to remember the night.

Apparently, Mr. Nate escorted me home, luckily no matter how drunk I get, I always remember where I am staying. One of my roommates, Trudy was home to let us in. All she recalls is that he is tall, dark and extremely handsome. Thinking he was a hook-up she left us alone. Not sure if I undressed myself or if he did, I do know we didn't have sex.

"I suppose I should call him and thank him."

"You should call him because he is delicious. Even half asleep I could tell how hot he was."

"But don't you think it's all a bit sus?"

"Girl, you are in New York City, everything here is sus."

"Truth!"

I decide to text Karen, she is the most responsible of us all and hope she can fill in the blanks.

"What happened last night?" I texted.

"You and the bouncer, I hope! He was gorgeous and you guys seemed to be hitting it off."

I don't want to admit to her that I have no clue what happened, so I try to play it off and get as much information as I can from her.

"I can't believe you guys left me with him."

"You practically chased us out, don't you remember?"

"Yeah, but still." I chased them out? My current dry spell must have gotten the better of me.

"So?"

"Sadly he turned out to be a perfect gentleman. Saw me home safely and ran off."

"Only you would find the hottest man in this city and he turns out to have morales."

"Yeah, just my luck," I sigh.

"You coming to Zumba? It's our favorite instructor, Joseph and his Madonna playlist.

"I can't move without my head screaming at me. It's why I am texting versus calling you. Two Advil, Emergen-C and back to bed for me."

"At least I can have one Zumba class without looking like two left feet next to you. Plus you may have danced enough for us all last night."

So, Mr. Nate, a mystery man. If Karen trusted me with him I should really text. And since he is a bouncer, he is surely used to drunken messes that may not remember the night. Maybe I should wait until after my hangover subsides. It's been a very long time since I have been hungover, FUBAR lives up to its name. I attempt to go back to bed but my head has the better of me in more ways than one. I seem to be great at living and obsessing inside my imaginary world in my mind. I am lying here, making up conversations between Nate and I in my head. Trying to picture what he may look like, or shall I say, who he may look like. Of course this opens an array of fantasies with so many tall, dark and handsome yet mysterious actors. Finally, I give in, if I don’t just text him, I will surely drive myself mad.

"Thank you." I text Nate.

"Thank you, it's been awhile since I have met such an interesting person.”

What does “interesting” mean in this case? And who talks like that? I don’t really know how to respond without giving away the fact that I do not have a memory of him, including how I got into bed. I usually hate texts because they leave room for misinterpretation, but in this moment I am happy he can not witness my blankness.

“And I did undress you but I didn't peek."

A gentleman and a mind reader. I am impressed. So what do I say now?

"You don't remember me do you?" Again reading my mind.

"Sadly no. But apparently you are the hottest man in this city according to my friends."

Nate laughs. I am sure if he is, he is used to being told so. Although his actions show that he isn't arrogant about it all.

"I may have been told that, but am not one to really be affected by such things."

Of course not, it's easy to be unaffected when you are beautiful. But it is nice that he is somewhat humble. I still have no clue what to text next. It's a good thing he isn't hungover and can read my mind.

"Hungover?"

"Very!"

"So brunch is out of the question."

"Sadly."

"Maybe tomorrow? I have to work tonight."

"Maybe."

"How about you text me when you are alive?"

"Definitely."

As I am about to hop in the shower, my phone dings again, just my luck, Nate is potentially a psycho. To my surprise it wasn't Nate.

“Good morning Taunnie!” Benji teases.

“And what is that supposed to insinuate?”

“I figured it had to be Taunnie and not good-girl Val that drunk dialed me last night, or I guess this morning for you.”

“Nooooo!”

“Yessss!”

“OMG Benji, I have lost my head.”

“Good.”

“Not good. I don't remember anything from last night.”

“Wow, that's a lot of alcohol consumed. You usually drink us all under the table and still manage to get to class alert and on time. I feel sorry for whom ever you were out with.”

“It's bad!”

“Oh, do tell, how bad?”

“Woke-up naked in bed with no clue of how I got here.”

“Guess the sex wasn't memorable?”

“Worse, no sex!”

“Sure?”

“Positive. It's all very sus!”

“Did you just say ‘sus’?”

“Oh yes, my new friends here are trying to make me cool.”

A string of LOL emoji pops up from Benji. I am so happy I can amuse him. I am so hungover that all this texting is making me dizzy.

“Desperately need shower and greasy food. Can I text or call you later?”

“Sure! Tell Taunnie I am proud of her.”

“I turned 21 back in May remember? Taunnie’s identity got shredded that night.”

“Your fake I.D. may have been shredded but I hope that the spirit of Taunnie lives on.”

“That's so neck!”

“Two new words! Wow! And you didn't really use the second one right, close but no cigar. You are still a nerd. Love you!”

“Baci baci.”

I am relieved that I only drunk dialed Benji. We have not had any sexting since that one time, and I am not going to participate in any FaceTime sex sessions. I am a full contact individual, says the woman who’s sex education came from novels and Skinamax. A shower and diner food helps. I can at least stand up without feeling as if I may fall down. My stomach and head have stopped yelling at me. As a good bartender, I promise not to let any of my customers do this to themselves. At least I am not throwing up, I would rather take an ambien and go back to sleep than pray to the Ivory God.

So, I could go see Nate at work tonight, but that might not be such a good idea, considering FUBAR is my kryptonite. I have never woken up so helpless. But not remembering anything about Nate is really driving me crazy.

“Hi.”

“Holla!”

“Ciao!”

“Italian?”

“Si, Spagnolo?”

“Sí, Cubano.” I get a flash of a scene from the movie Addicted with William Levy in it, where Zoe Reynard’s character poses for Levy’s character to paint. I of course had to read the book after that, Zane’s books are one of my favorite dirty pleasures.

“I love Cuban food.”

“You are funny!” Love that he got the double entendre.

“What time do you have to work?”

“Working at Scores tonight, so i don’t start until 10:00 pm.”

“What is Scores, and how many jobs do you have?”

I get a series of laughing emojis in various patterns. Glad I amuse him.

“Sorry, anytime any one asks me about how many jobs I have I am reminded of the skits from In Living Color, where they make fun of Jamaicans having 10 jobs each.”

“In Living Color?”

“Really? You don’t know about In Living Color?”

“No, sorry. I don’t get to watch much TV.”

“Oh, now I know what we can do tomorrow. I will make you a Cuban breakfast and we will binge watch In Living Color.”

I can feel the disappointment coming over me, he said tomorrow, that means he doesn’t want to see me tonight. He doesn't work until 10 p.m. tonight, do I suggest coffee before work? Realizing that I have no idea how all this works. Benji and I didn’t really “date”, we just hung around together enough to become an item.

And again, as if reading my mind, “unless you want to come visit me at work tonight. Although I don’t know many women eager to hang out at a gentleman’s club all night.”

“Gentleman’s club?”

“It’s a nicer way of saying strip club.”

“Wow, having a few mixed emotions right now.”

“Ha! You really are a funny one. What might those mixed emotions be?”

“I don’t know if I can share such things when we haven't even had a first date yet.”

“You do realize I watched you dance on my bar last night, amongst other things.”

Unfair, I don’t remember. I have no idea what he is talking about. I now remember dancing on the bar, but don’t remember exactly what that may have looked like. I remember shooting pool, again, don’t quite remember what that may have looked like as well. There is how I usually behave in both instances, and there is how I can act at times, two very different sides. Once again, cat’s got my tongue, or finger, completely blank. I don’t want to seem desperate, but I am. It’s killing me to not even be able to “see” his face in my mind. I am really enjoying the banter we have back and forth. But I will admit, my curiosity is definitely getting the better of me. It is a Saturday night. Everyone else in this building is heading out for the night. I have never been to a strip club. The Box, a club in San Francisco has go-go dancers that do get down to and sometimes out of their skibbies, but never have I stepped foot into a “gentleman’s club”, not very gentlemanly by-the-way.

“Let’s see how I feel after a shower and an attempt at a meal.”

“I like the idea of a shower.”

“So come join me.” Shit! Did I just say that?

“Sadly, I am not that kind of guy.” Yay?

“And what kind of guy is that?” I didn’t have the guts to ask why he even bothered to say it, if I said it, I would be considered a cock tease.

“The kind that doesn’t take advantage of a great opportunity. I grew up jumping without looking, not that guy anymore.”

“Lucky me?”

“Depends on the guy you were looking for.”

“I was not looking for any guy at all, kind of just fell on you, literally. Too much thinking in this state of mind.”

“Respect. Text me when you know what your plans are.”

“Will do.”

So, do I go and figure out who this mystery man is? Or do I enjoy the fact that he is a mystery. I do enjoy the openness of how we communicate as we are strangers, per say. It’s funny how easy it is to get personal when there is no personal space or memories to connect through. I get why everyone is so obsessed with FaceBook, Twitter or all the crazy virtual dating options. Meeting people virtually can be simpler. I find it creepy. But I do get it, like now, I open up to Nate more than to Will. Poor Will, I tired to hang out and let that ride, but knowing too much about him and seeing him everyday in our buildings, he doesn’t stand a chance. He is turning into a good friend and I am really glad that I stepping out of my comfort zone to enjoy his company more. Will, of course, is too much of a gentleman to push the issue.

Do I feel like letting Benji weigh in on this one? Something makes me want to keep thing between Nate and I, just that. I can’t put my finger on it, but I kind of want every aspect of this man to myself. This all feels so different than any situation I have come across. Maybe it’s being here in New York City, or maybe this is the first time I have met a man that has no interest in my body. I know that sounds arrogant. It’s not. I work very hard on looking the way I do and I am blessed with the combined DNA of my parents. But more poignantly, I don’t know any man that wouldn’t have taken advantage of an extremely drunk woman, that is willing; that part I do know about myself, and ready to have sex. Yet if you read between every line of my story for the last several years, Benji is there. It feels weird to keep things from him. After me not telling him immediately about this internship, I promised him no more secrets. One day at a time. Let’s see if Nate is all that he’s cracked up to be first. Too good to be true can often be just that.

Curiosity wins tonight, looks like I will get my first taste of a strip club tonight. Let’s hope I keep my shirt on.

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