Chapter 1 - Penny's POV
“Um, hold on a sec,” I answer, not really looking at my cell phone before putting it to my ear.
Too many busybodies in the office love to gossip about other people’s phone conversations for my liking. I get out of the habit of using the speakerphone feature unless my door is closed or I’m driving in the car. Okay, I know, I know. The last bit is illegal, and never do it without the speakerphone when commuting via vehicle. I am not an advocate for more bills to pay because I’m too stupid to follow the rules.
“Hello?” the male voice on the other end says, “Did this thing drop my call again?”
The call disconnects as I rush out of my windowed space, overlooking downtown Chicago near Greentown. Hunger strikes, and I need a quick bite, anyway. With the snatch of my wallet and phone from my purse, I leave on break. Should I fail to flee this instant, I never will until quitting time. I have done it too many times before to see the writing on the wall.
“Damn!” I stare at the phone only to realize it's not connected. “Just my luck.”
My day has been quite the bitch already. Not a cute high heel foot stepped out of my damn office since I arrived at eight o’clock this morning. Besides that, if that new guy, Harris, who happens to be my boss, asks me another stupid-ass question over Microsoft Teams, I’ll explode! Damn, I require a break before I murder somebody!
Do you know that woman who tries to climb out of the bathroom window to escape a bad date? Well, I’m her all over as my M. Gemi black heels click softly over the hardwood floors. I make no eye contact out the main doors of Gateway Capital. Ordinarily, I’ll switch to sneakers, but not today. I don’t dare risk getting caught up in the latest problem of the day and missing the opportunity for a needed break.
My cell rings again before I can return the lost call. Because I am already sliding my fingers across the screen I answer. “Hello?”
“Hey, Penny girl,” greets Raymond Silverstone but prefers Ray, and so do I. There’s something in his voice that sounds off, which slows down my progress.
“Hi, stranger!” I can’t help my excitement despite knowing something’s up with my old friend. Being so close, I know these things innately no matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked. I’m having a hard time remembering how long. It’s been a hot minute since last I’ve heard his sweet voice, for sure.
He replies in a sheepish tone, “Yeah, uh, I guess I deserve that.”
Ray always reaches out when I’m down. It’s like a beacon, or something goes off for him, and he calls me at the right time, just when I need him. This hectic workday shapes to be one of those kinda days, you know? Hearing Ray speak my name in that mellow, smooth voice of his instantly puts a smile on my face. Meltdown averted! He serves as my personal ray of sunshine on the gloomiest of days since I’ve known him.
“Thought for sure you’ve been ghosting me?” I inquire more than curious about what prompts this call today and not a quick text at the very least.
Ray and I often talk several times a week, by phone, text, or email. Since he started dating this latest girl Tara, he’s been missing in action on all fronts. His girlfriend acts like a jealous bitch whenever I am around him. True... Ray and I are tighter than my favorite skinny jeans. Very tight, but it’s not like we’ve dated or would do anything like that. Ever. I mean, it’s Ray. You know; he’s my boy. My BFF. I would never mess that up.
Just so you know, I have a record. I’ve screwed up many relationships already you’d find me easily in a Google search to win that feat. A lot of them, okay? Lesson learned. This strong friendship with Ray is not gonna be one of them I destroy because of my abysmal skills in keeping a man. Nah-uh; no way!
I love Ray far too much to complicate what we have by doing something daft like friends with benefits. Ha! What a crock of shit that is! Don’t do it. Not worth the heartache or the headache.
“Awww, man, quit it already, will ya.” He pushes out a breath and says rather reluctantly, “I’m sorry; honest to God?”
A second or two go by without me saying anything. Ray breaks the silence first. “Please?”
“We’ll see.” Without helping it, I snicker. I love hearing how uncomfortably guilty he sounds as he should.
“How are the girls? Have you talked to Kevin lately?”
One of my girlfriends, who is sweet but a total nympho named Chloe, makes a mistake a few years back. She super regrets it to this day. She and our other friend Kevin know each other since high school. While out drinking one night, they get stinking drunk. I mean blackout, stumbling around smashed.
Somehow, they wind up back at Kevin’s place. Neither recall how that happens. Instead of sleeping it off as they typically do, Kevin and Chloe have sex. Liking it so much, they continue the sex part for three months until Chloe meets some cute black guy named Darwin through another friend Belle. After hitting it off with him at the club, Chloe gets knocked up in a reckless one-night stand before he is in the wind.
Anyhow, by then, what Chloe does not know is that Kevin developes deeper feelings for her. As in all the warm and fuzzies, he cannot not hide anymore. The will-you-be-my-girl sort of feelings that lead to marriage and, uh... well, baby carriages, which on the latter my nympho friend has covered. Yeah, ouch, right?!
Oh, Chloe, in her own twisted way, agonizes over the whole affair she starts because she never feels like that for Kevin. She thinks that she has been clear with him that she only wants his body. With no finesse, Chloe flat out tells him that she is not in love with him and never will be. His merrymaker is too small really to get her off, and she likes them huge. Double ouch!
And you guess it, not only does Kevin and Chloe stop knocking boots, but they also stop being friends. I can’t believe it. To me, I’ve seen no two people closer or having each other’s back. It shocks the hell outta me and saddens me, too. No longer can we hang out together.
Poor Kevin cannot stand seeing Chloe running around banging other guys (with presumably bigger peckers than him) while also having someone else’s baby. He moves to Florida, hoping to get over her by getting under someone else. Now and again, I check in with him to find out how he’s doing, you know. Kevin also is my friend. I miss him to pieces!
He’s fine now. Some Cuban girl named Leya with a fiery temper has his undivided attention. She’s crazy but crazy good in bed. Most importantly, Leya loves him and his pecker. Kevin says that he cannot get enough. Moving away from the Mid-west is the best decision he makes. Kevin may not have met Leya otherwise.
Long story short? Do not hook up with your BFF! It obliterates everything. Shut the front door on that with quickness!
“Everybody’s livin' their lives, Ray,” I muster, unable to stop myself from giving him another dig, “You know like how you’ve been livin' yours?”
My BFF expels another breath, frustration with me mounting, I’m sure. I have been told that I can be infuriating. “I didn’t. I mean—I—I never meant to stay away so long, P.”
“Then why did you?” I wonder as the snickers stop, and my smile fades. The hurt leaks through, turning my playful tone bitter after weeks of not hearing from him. Despite the fact that I understand his situation, I never think it will come to this or between us.