“The red ones are killer, Lucy. Definitely the red,” Dominic says with such flare that he almost gets me to commit to the red heels. I invited him over to my apartment for a couple of pre-drinks before we head to the speakeasy. He’s sitting on the couch, patiently waiting for me to join him for the drink I promised.
“I don’t know, red heels and a black dress? I think I would stand out too much.” I march back into my bedroom. I check myself out in my full-length mirror and try to see how I look at all angles. “Nope, not these heels. I’m going with the black strap wedges and that’s final!” I say.
“So, your friend Cora, she didn’t say anything about last night?” Dominic calls from the other room. A tone of concern in his voice.
I walk out to the living room before I respond, “No, no mention of it whatsoever. It’s either that she isn’t phased by it or is pretending it never happened. I can’t imagine that she didn’t notice how hurt I was when we left the bar.” I sit and join Dominic on the couch with my glass of white wine.
“Your pain was obvious. I imagine the entire restaurant noticed.” He pulls me in and kisses my right temple. It felt so comforting. “You look absolutely stunning, by the way. The black strappy heels were definitely the right choice.”
He makes me smile. Butterflies overtake me whenever we make eye contact. I realize I am painting Cora in a bad light. I don’t mean to do that. It makes me feel bad. “You know what, I take back what I said. There’s no way Cora wasn’t phased by the fight last night. She comforted me. I don’t know why I said what I did. I’m thinking her reasoning for not bringing it up today is that she knew how badly Ellie hurt me. She probably wants to take my mind off things and not make it worse by talking about it.”
“Interesting way to handle a hurt friend’s emotions, but I suppose you know her best.”
“I do. She’s a great friend. Please don’t make anything of this,” I caution Dominic. I suddenly feel protective of Cora. Why is Dominic acting like this about Cora? I wave off the feeling of a red flag surfacing. He isn’t trying to get in my head about my one, standing friendship right now, is he? I stop my thought before I let it go any further. This is just my paranoia talking, I tell myself.
“My apologies, I meant nothing by it. I feel a certain need to protect you and keep you safe. I tend to question everything, but it is in no way meant to be a slight against anyone. Especially you, so again, I apologize.”
“It’s fine, I don’t feel slighted. Just felt the need to stand up for Cora.”
We finish our drinks in awkward silence and Dominic calls for an Uber. When the Uber driver arrives, we head out and Dominic opens the door for me to slide into the back seat. He then goes around the car and sits next to me in the back. He handles everything. He confirms with the Uber driver our destination and he tells me he will throw in a tip with cash. Fortunately, the drive over to the speakeasy is pleasant. We laugh about Ludo’s antics and make plans to have a date at the dog park soon.
“Lucy Goosey! Babe!” Cora greets me with a hug. Her ensemble is not what I expected. She’s wearing a red and black flapper style dress with a black feather boa. She committed to the theme. I’m impressed. Kingsley stands next to her with a big, princely smile. His teeth are perfectly straight and whitened. He looks like a movie star. Kingsley moves in after Cora releases me and gives me a hug, too.
He whispers in my ear, “Don’t mind her, she’s already three drinks deep,” he steps back and dutifully introduces himself to Dominic, “Kingsley River, how do you do?” as he extends his hand.
Dominic shakes Kingsley’s hand, “Dominic Walker, and how do I do what?” he jokes. I watch as they both maintain eye contact a bit longer than feels comfortable.
“Hate to break up this love fest, but let’s go get a table. Baby, I’m parched,” Cora wraps her arm around Kingsley and pulls him towards the bar. Dominic and I exchange a look of amusement and follow suit. Dominic places his arm around my shoulders. I’m not sure why, but the public display of affection makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I usually love feeling special and protected.
The outside of the bar is discreet. It looks like a side door entrance. Kingsley turns to us and explains how the establishment works. “First, you cannot get in without reservations. When you make a reservation, the hostess gives you a ‘secret’ code. It’s a door knock, but the ‘code’ changes each night. That way, you can only get in with a reservation. It’s fantastic!” He proceeds to knock three times, pauses, one knock, pauses, then again three more times. A woman, presumably the doorkeeper, opens the door and looks around behind us and whizzes us into the cocktail lounge. The lounge is buzzing with chatter and laughter. Looking around, I notice most of the patrons are dressed as though they’re in the 1920s. I should have read up on this place before we came.
We sit at a booth and I pick up the menu. The dim lighting in the bar makes it a little difficult to read the menu. One side of the menu is a drink list and the other side is a list of house rules. The bar actually bans cell phones from being placed on the table. I guess because they didn’t have cell phones in prohibition days. I hear jazz playing in the background and the smell of burning sage wafts through the air. I look over at the bartender as he uses a mini blow torch to burn sage in a very lovely looking cocktail. “Oh, I want that!” I exclaim. Everyone at our table twists around to get a view of the bartender’s work of art. Its smell is nostalgic of Christmas time and the coupe glass it is served in appears vintage with floral etching on the side. I set the menu down, knowing exactly what I want to order and fold my hands atop the closed menu. I feel pleased with myself.
“This place is known for their selection of exclusive cocktails,” Cora tells us. “I love the French 75. It is champagne mixed with gin.”
“I thought this place is new? How can they be known for anything yet?” questions Dominic. “Have you had the French 75 before?
“There’s another location in Los Angeles,” Kingsley answers with a tiny hint of annoyance. “Cora and I have gone a time or two. Mostly when I had late nights working in Malibu.”
“Anyway, I thought you might like that one, Luce. It smells like Christmas.” Cora smiles at me. I smile back at her. It feels like we have a connection that the guys don’t know about. I love that she knows me well enough to know I am drawn to anything Christmas-related, even in the dead of summer. The waitress comes to our table and takes our drink orders. We sit in silence for a moment and I’m not sure what to say to break it. I’m not the most skilled when it comes to starting conversations. Especially small talk. Anything that involves small talk, count me out. Kingsley is the first to speak.
“Cora and I have finally settled on a wedding date, sort of. We decided it will be in March.”
“Oh, babe, no, we decided June. How quickly they forget,” Cora rolls her eyes.
“No, I distinctly recall March.” Kingsley sighs, “Well, never mind everyone. False alarm, I guess we haven’t agreed upon a wedding month. At this rate, I wonder if we’ll ever get married.”
An awkward hush falls over our table. I glance at Cora and notice a micro expression of shame, but it is fleeting and flickers into a smile. “Oh, he’s just being silly. Of course, there will be a wedding. It’ll be the event of the year. Whatever year that may be.”
“I love you, darling,” says Kingsley as he leans over to kiss Cora’s cheek. She smiles and takes a sip of her drink, giving me a wink. They’re both very relaxed together and never seem to worry about being affectionate in front of others. For a moment, I find myself sitting in envy of their affinity of each other.
As the night goes on, we laugh and the more alcohol we consume, the more the conversation flows. At one point, Dominic and Kingsley get into a friendly debate. I become a bit worried that it takes a turn down a political path, but they seem to settle their opposition of one another’s views by ordering two Old Fashioned drinks. By the end of the night, Dominic and Kingsley seem like they are best buds. I would never have guessed that they met a mere two hours ago. They make plans to go golfing on Sunday. Part of me wishes I could make friends with someone as easily as they did. I have my two best friends, Cora and Ellie, and I think that’s going to be the extent of my friendships. I’ve come to realize that as I get older, it’s a lot more difficult to let others into my inner circle.
Before the waitress has a chance to bring the bill to the table, Kingsley hands her his credit card and pays for all of us. Dominic seems to take this as a kick to his manhood, “Oh no, you don’t have to do that. Let’s split it at least. I can’t let you pay for me and Lucy.”
“It’s fine, my good man. How about you get the first round at the golf course?” Kingsley offers. Dominic nods in response and the topic drops right there. We walk outside and it is chilly out. I start to regret not bringing a coat with me. Fortunately, the Uber shows up shortly after we walk out to the curb.
We say our goodbyes with hugs and handshakes. Dominic opens the car door for me to climb in. I stumble to the car and throw my body weight in and feel the cab bounce. In my mind I am moving gracefully, but based on the Uber driver’s expression, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Dominic gets in through the other door and we head back to my apartment.
“They’re great. I really like Kingsley and Cora. At first, I wasn’t so sure, but now I am a fan.” Dominic confesses, “I’m looking forward to golfing with Kingsley. He’s a class act. I used to think realtors who sell mansions to the rich were stuck up and stuffy, but he has proven me wrong.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty fantastic. Cora is one of my best friends. She is sharp as a tack. And Kingsley, well, Kingsley is just… Kingsley is… perfect.” These are the last words I speak before my head hits the pillow and I pass out.
I wake up the next morning and find myself alone in bed. I’m still in my dress from last night. I walk out to the living room. I check the kitchen and the bathroom and I see no sign of Dominic. Last night is a bit of a blur, I thought he had stayed the night with me, but maybe I made that up? No, there’s no way. I didn’t drink more than three drinks. Three is my magic number to stop. I start to recap the night by the drinks. I remember my first drink had the burning sage, the second had cotton candy, and the third was an extra dirty martini. Oh wait, I had a glass of white wine before we left my apartment. Shit. Think, think, think! Damnit, my memory is fogged.
I reach for my phone:
Good morning sunshine! I thought you were going to sleep at my place?
Morning, Lucy, I thought I was going to stay, too. Alas, we were both wrong. Listen, Lucy, it’s obvious you have a thing for Kingsley. I’m not comfortable with whatever is going on between you two.
WHAT? Why would you say that? I do NOT have a thing for Kingsley! He is with Cora and she is my friend.
It didn’t seem that way last night, you said he is perfect. Even after you already told me that you don’t believe perfect truly exists. And if I’m perfectly honest, he seems to have a thing for you, too.
His text stops me in my tracks. Kingsley has a thing for me?
For me! Imagine that! Ha! As if! He is way out of my league.
I feel my face flush. It takes me a moment longer to take in what Dominic said, and I consider the two directions I can go with this. I can either be upset and walk away right now, sacrificing the blooming relationship, or I can calmly respond with maturity and respect. Deciding that my regard for Dominic far outweighs my knee jerk reaction, I make up my mind that I need to respond.
I’m sorry that we left you with the impression that more was going on than just a friendship, but I can assure you, Kingsley absolutely adores Cora and he and I are simply friends. We have never been more than that to each other. You need to have some trust in me. Do you trust me?
I’m starting to feel irritation creep up. Is Dominic serious? He really noticed some kind of spark between Kingsley and me? Or is he delusional? What’s a relationship without trust? I hate thinking he is creating something in his mind that doesn’t really exist. If he says something to Kingsley about this and Cora gets wind of it, she will kill me.
Okay-if you say so-I believe you, of course I trust you. I’m sorry for all of that, let’s move past it and be together later today. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. I miss you and I regret not staying over last night. I’m being a moron. Kingsley and I are still going golfing, but would you be up for hanging out afterward?
Yes, please, let’s move past it. Call me after your game of golf.
Dominic calls around eleven. He says it was a short game of nine hole. I’m not sure I understand what that means. I won’t even begin to pretend I’m into golfing. We decide to go for a hike with Ludo. Dominic swears he knows the best place and that it’s secluded. I check my fridge for a white wine I can pack for the picnic. Fortunately, I have a sweet Moscato with a twist top. I doubt Dominic will be too into the wine, but I’m sure he will at least pretend he enjoys it for my benefit. Humming to myself, I hear footsteps approaching my door. That must be Dominic! Right on time, too. I rush over and swing open the door before he has a chance to knock. “Hi!” I exclaim, but to my surprise there is no one there. Odd, it must have been a neighbor. I look down on my doorstep and see an envelope. Hmm, it looks like a letter with my name printed on it. I don’t recognize the handwriting. I pick it up and read it.
I have been observing you lately and I must say, you are the biggest disappointment. It seems like your lackluster life is taking up space on the Earth that could otherwise be used for more interesting things, like dirt, because you’re lower than dirt. You know what you did. I’ll take you out before you know what hit you.
Watch your back, bitch, because I’m watching you.
Gasping, I throw the letter on the ground. I feel panic rising through my chest and need to sit down. That’s when Dominic knocks on the door and I let him in. It’s not my usual smile that I greet him with. It’s me fighting a panic attack. Dominic walks in with Ludo and sees my emotions written all over my face. “No one signed it, no one signed it!” I repeat as he approaches me. A familiar feeling rises through my chest. “I can’t breathe,” I say as I begin hyperventilating.
“Sit down. I’m getting you water. Take a deep breath. I’m here with you now. it’s going to be okay. Tell me what’s going on, Lucy? What’s not signed?” He rushes over with a glass of tepid water and kneels on the floor in front of me. Ludo wanders over and plops his big, droopy head in my lap. His eyes raised in concern. I absentmindedly start to pet his head.
Taking a sip and then a deep breath as Dominic directs me, I realize his presence alone has calmed me down a bit. “That letter on the floor over there, someone is, they are, I don’t know who it is, but,” oh no, panic is setting in again. He instructs me again to take a deep breath. When I feel collected, I begin again. This time very slowly choosing my words. “I heard someone at my door and I thought it was you. I rushed over to open it, but no one was there. Then, I found this letter addressed to me on my doorstep. Please, read it. It scares me. Especially with the constant feeling that someone is watching me. And the phone calls! Can you take me to the police station? I think I need to file a report.” I gaze at Dominic as he reads the letter. He looks up at me, wide eyed and walks over to sit beside me.
“I can see why you are distressed. I’m upset, too. You’re not alone in this, Lucy. I’m here with you. Every step of the way. I’m a bit apprehensive about filing a report. I’m just not sure we can go to the police with this. I know how they operate and this doesn’t seem to rise to the level of a crime.”
“But whoever this is said they’re watching me. Isn’t that considered stalking? Isn’t stalking a crime? And what about the phone calls? Isn’t that harassment?”
“It’s completely suspicious. I’m not arguing that it’s not. I just think it will be a waste of your time to report it. Unless,” he pauses for a moment, “do you have a culprit in mind? Any enemies? Anyone who has wished you ill, or maybe you screwed over? Have the weird calls with the breathing been consistently from the same number?”
My defenses start to rise, “What? No, of course not! I have not double crossed anyone and most people at work love me, but even the ones who don’t wouldn’t be impassioned to harass me like this. The phone calls have not been identifiable, but I know in my gut that it’s the same person. Chalk it up to woman’s intuition, or whatever you want, but I know. I just know.”
He studies my face before he speaks. His words are careful and deliberate. “I hate to say this, but what about Ellie? Would she do something like this? Any history of this kind of behavior? You did recently get in a huge fight.”
Ellie? My heart thuds through my chest. That is so unlike her to leave a letter like this at my door. She’s a straightforward person. If she has an issue with something, she will say it to my face. Though, Dominic is right. I did recently have a huge blow out with her. “You know what, I’m sure it’s just a terrible joke and someone has a twisted sense of humor. It’s probably nothing and I don’t want to waste police resources with my paranoia.” I crumple the letter and smile at Dominic, “Picnic time?”