Best Laid Plans

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Chapter 1

“Come on clock! Be on my side for once!” I say for Cora’s amusement. Cora gives a small laugh; I can hear the slight pity in it. She props herself up on the corner of my desk, crossing her legs, I notice her red bottom heels. Aren’t those expensive? Must be nice to have the money to spend frivolously on shoes. She’s the kind of woman that women idolize and men dream about. She has striking beauty with light green eyes and blonde hair. Her hair is always perfectly in place, her makeup is flawless, and her clothes are expensive. How she does it, I’ll never know.

I, on the other hand, struggle each day just to put on makeup, let alone brush my hair. Today my hair was impossible to comb through so I put it up in a bun. I was running late so I put on the bare minimum of makeup. Light powder, quick blush, and two swoops of mascara before I ran out the door. My eyes are a deep brown, “Like brownie bites,” as Cora so lovingly tells me, but men don’t want brownie bites. Men want exotic. Men want Cora. Cora steals the spotlight wherever she goes. Her laugh is contagious and she flirts with everyone, men and women. Cora has never been the type to use discretion. I guess opposites do attract, even in the friend world.

“I cannot wait to get out of here and hit the bar for happy hour. The images of cocktails have been dancing in my head all day. Maybe I’ll get a margarita? No, no, it’s definitely a beer kind of night. I need to relax,” I said while shuffling paperwork, my lame attempt to look busy. Cora rolls her eyes.

“Beer? Gross, that’s a man’s drink. C’mon Luce, let’s just bow out a little early. It’s only ten minutes, that’s it. Stop being such a goody-goody!” Cora always has a way to make me feel special and put me down at the same time. I think that’s the hold she has on people. Her compliments always leave them wanting more. Like addicts looking for their needles. She does a little shimmy and says, “It’s time to get Lucy Goosey!” I am so embarrassed. She may find satisfaction in the sideway glances from our coworkers, but I do not.

“Okay, fine. Let’s not make a habit of it, okay? I need this job. Unlike some people, I haven’t found my billionaire yet.” She looks at me with a smirk and winks. We head out and find our driver sitting outside waiting for us. Kingsley, Cora’s fiancé, pays a private service to drive Cora around. We take advantage of this and use Mr. Adam as our personal designated driver every Friday. He is a nice man who loves his work. He is usually quiet when he drives us around.

When we reach the bar, we head straight to the back to our favorite booth. I guess I should say my favorite booth. Cora prefers to be up front and center in the middle of the action.

I like to be in the background observing the chaos. Drunk men hitting on women, buying them drinks thinking they actually have a chance. I see their eyes drift and land on Cora for brief moments, but they have not had enough liquid courage to approach. I know as the night goes on those men will flock back here and those women will stare in jealousy. It’s the same story every time we go out.

Cora discreetly slides her engagement ring off her finger and slips it into her purse. She does this every Friday. “It’s for the free drinks,” she shrugs when others ask. I know the truth; Cora loves the attention and will leave with men if they have thrown enough cash around. Cora’s fiancé hasn’t a clue. They say love is blind, but I say Cora’s allure is blinding.

“I’ll get the drinks!” Cora gracefully stood up, straightened her skirt and, I swear, floated to the bar. Cora knows this place has a server, but she prefers to flirt with the cute bartender. He isn’t her type. He’s a bit edgy with tattoos and a bit of attitude. Whenever he sees Cora, he melts. Cora’s charm is too much for most men to handle. We always drink for free.

“Hey! Wait a minute. I just wanted a beer,” As Cora hands me a dirty martini, I roll my eyes. The first time Cora and I had drinks together she ordered me a dirty martini. I thought the taste was too strong for my liking, but like most things in life, I acquired a taste for them. Ultimately, Cora was right and won the battle of getting me to drink anything but beer. Now, I usually order extra dirty martinis, except tonight I expected to be mellow and sip on a beer. Oh well, that ship sailed the moment I let Cora grab the drinks.

“Not tonight, my lady, not tonight,” she smirks. She does this to me all the time. She thinks she knows best when it comes to my drinks. Apparently, a martini is one of the sexiest drinks for a woman, and one of the strongest. She enjoys teasing men from a distance with the olives. I have not mastered the skill. I tried once and started to choke, never again. Seduction tricks should be left to the masters. I have zero business pretending to have any appeal.

“To finding you a man tonight! Cheers!” Our glasses clink and I can feel a little of the liquid splash onto my hand. Oops, I am such a klutz, it’s actually disconcerting. Ugh, this drink is much stronger than I anticipated for the night. Cora is always doing this to me. I don’t know why I keep going out with her. I guess it’s because I’m single at 25 and do not want to become a crazy cat lady! Besides, I prefer dogs anyway. I once dated a guy who didn’t like dogs. We lasted two weeks and now, it’s a first date question for me. Not liking dogs is a deal breaker.

A quick scan of the room and I don’t see anyone I deem worth talking to. He skipped too many buttons on his purple silk shirt. Hello hairy chest, bleh! And the guy he’s with, don’t even get me started. His hair is way too slicked back for my liking. Oh shit, he just looked at me.

“Don’t come over, don’t come over,” I plead in a whisper as I lower myself in my seat.

“What? Do we have a gentleman caller?” Cora seems quite pleased right now. She shifts in the booth and swiftly turns to see him while I slink a little lower behind the table.

“Cora, stop it! He will see you looking!” She turns and gives a small wave. “Cut it out!” Oh, but it’s too late. Mr. Slicked-Back Hair is coming my way.

“Hello, gorgeous ladies, how are we tonight?” He smiles at me, but keeps ogling Cora’s cleavage. Ugh, even his smile is greasy. Cora, on the other hand, is enjoying my humiliation and the obvious attention he keeps giving her.

Cora leans forward, giving him a better view of what she calls her “assets” and smiles. “We are exceptional. Why don’t you join us for a quick drink? Ah, bummer, looks like mine’s on empty. How about yours, Luce?” She glances at my glass and realizes I’ve only had a few sips. “Is your drink hurt or something? Why are you nursing it?” If there’s anything Cora loves more than attention, it’s calling me out to make me look foolish in front of men who show even the slightest interest in me.

“Um, I’m sorry,” I feel my anxiety kick in, I don’t want him to sit down, “but we are having a girls’ night and, um, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.” I can barely keep the eye contact. It doesn’t matter, without a moment’s hesitation, he turns to Cora and says, “She’s having a girls’ night, how ’bout you?” Cora smirks and waves her hand for him to lean in, she grabs his shirt and pulls him in a closer and whispers something to him. He grins like a fool and runs off to the bar.

“What, what did you tell him? Why do you always do this? Why am I always the last to know what’s going on?” I’m a little overwhelmed and frustrated at this point. Cora is just sitting there looking completely pleased with herself. Oh, great. He’s coming back with two martinis and what I can only assume is a gin and tonic. Gross. I feel a bit flustered as he hands out the drinks. I can feel my cheeks getting a little warm. He slides into the seat next to Cora and across from me.

“Aww, Luce, don’t be embarrassed. The nice man only wants to make sure we all have a good time tonight, isn’t that right?” she says as she turns to him and touches his arm. I can’t help myself, I gaze at her hand placement. It’s her left hand, the one that should be adorned with a stunningly unbelievably large diamond. Except, that it is a real diamond. Cora’s fiancé would never get her anything less than the best. He’s such a good guy, but he has been charmed by the Cora spell that she puts on everyone. Shoot, how long have I been staring at her hand? Earth to Lucy! I catch Cora’s gaze and oh boy, if looks could kill.

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