As Zee parked her truck in the parking lot of the Oxbow hotel, she sighted Stanley waiting for her outside his car.
Concerning his dressing, his attempt at decorum impressed her. Instead of saggy jeans and a T-shirt bearing vulgar texts, he was wearing a fitted dark green shirt atop white pants and dark sneaker boots. His stud earrings were still on though and he was looking good.
As soon as he sighted her truck, he walked over to meet her. She stepped out of the car and they hugged heartily before separating.
“You look so pretty, Zee. I’ll be the envy of the room.”
Zee smiled. “Thanks. You look great, like a gentleman in many ways.”
“Thanks. You can say that again. Let’s go.” He took her hand and they walked towards the glass heavyset double doors of the restaurant.
The door attendant upon seeing them opened the glass door and greeted them to which they answered politely.
Quiet live piano music filled the room from a corner where a male musician was controlling the keys with practiced enthusiasm.
The affluent-looking guests inside were few and he led her to a corner of the room, pointing at a table for two. “That’s our reservation.” He told her.
“I am impressed.”
“I wish I could have taken us to the business section at the other part of this floor. Then it would be just me and you in one of those rooms. You deserve it.”
“Stanley, this is fine. Thanks.”
“Cool. Let’s see what they’ve got here.” He said, picking up a menu laid out on the table. Zee also picked up a copy of the menu. After a while, he looked at Zee. “I want to signal the waiter. Have you picked something?”
He signaled a waiter who drew near and took their orders. Zee ordered a plate of fish fillet and French fries. Stanley ordered fries with fried turkey breasts. Then he added an average-priced wine. The waiter finished taking their orders and left.
Zee smiled at him, thinking about how cruel it would be to tell refuse him after all his efforts. She would have to keep him.
Stanley returned her smile, thinking about how he could not wait to get her addicted to a certain drug in particular.
One of his friends had used it to keep a girl to himself. The girl always needed a shot, had used all her money, and could not afford it anymore. His friend would always bang her for a shot. He said she was his special plaything.
That was the same goal he had for Zee. She was so beautiful, perfect, and wild. She was his spec. However, she was holding back in some way and he would have to break her barriers. The drug would be perfect.
Zee was distracted as a group of men entered the restaurant, walking on either side of a tall guy in their midst.
Holy shit! It was Michael and his men. Zee’s heart skipped a beat. They paused just inside as an attendant hurried over to them and said something while pointing in a direction where a corridor granted access to the VIP section of the place.
Zee lowered her head and used the menu to hide her face. Stanley noticed her move.
“Hey, why are you hiding?”
“I’m not hiding.” She told him.
“But you are.”
“Then remove the damn menu from your face and look up.”
“Zee, is he your boyfriend? Do you know him? Is that why you’ve been refusing me?”
“Let it go, Stan.”
“I might as well go show him that you’re here.”
Zee’s eyes widened, her heartbeat racing. “No, please don’t. He’s my big brother. He didn’t want me coming here.”
“Bullshit. You’re a big girl. Stop lying. You never did tell me you had a brother.”
“Well, I’m telling you now. He’s not always around because of his job and he’s very protective of me. He might hurt you if he sees us together.”
Stanley blinked rapidly, noticing how the men surrounded him as he talked to the attendant. Zee could be telling the truth. He would have to pipe down for now.
“Your brother should loosen up. He’s not going to marry you, you know?”
“Stanley, don’t be a damn pain in the ass.” She said through gritted teeth. “Damn it. Besides, I am not your girlfriend.” She glared at him.
Stanley looked at Michael who was still saying something to the attendant and back at Zee who was still cowering. Then he sighed. What the hell? She was there with him. What did it matter if she was lying and probably seeing the guy, hence, she was afraid of him seeing them together? He had his own agenda, anyway.
He watched Michael go towards the direction the attendant had pointed them to, his guards fast around him. The restaurant guests eyed them curiously and reverently.
Zee watched them go and at some point, she saw Michael’s head turn towards her direction and she quickly covered her face with the menu again. She was feeling so jittery already.
Stanley shook his head at her in exasperation and Michael exited to the VIP section with his bodyguards. Then she dropped the menu and sighed with relief while Stanley just stared at her in a thoughtful manner.
“What is it, Stan?” she demanded. She was still trying to come out of her nervous state but her progress was slow. In fact, she was no longer comfortable with sitting down there.
“Nothing.” He answered and just then, the waiter arrived with their orders and they started eating.
At this point, Stanley was eager to make her feel comfortable just to get on her good side. She could be holding grudges about his actions earlier.
“I’m sorry about all the drama earlier. I was just jealous, thinking that you two might be together.”
“Forgive my impulsiveness.”
“So who’s the guy, really?”
“He’s big brother.”
“I believe you. What does he do? I mean, he was with bodyguards?”
“He is Mafia.”
She watched fear enter his eyes.
“Shit. No wonder you’re afraid of him.”
Zee was glad he believed her.
“Do you think, maybe we ought to leave as soon as possible?” he asked.
“I don’t think so because we are in a sort of secluded place. He can’t see us here.”
They both concentrated on their meals. When they were done, they sipped the wine from their glasses. Zee felt a need to use the restroom and rose to her feet. “I’m going to use the restroom.” She said.
“Okay.” He responded and continued enjoying his wine.
Zee kept her head down as she hurried towards the direction of the VIP section and there, she turned right, where the restrooms were. The restrooms were separated on opposite sides with VIP marking off one set of the restrooms.
She was surprised as she caught sight of Inara emerging from the VIP part of the restrooms. Inara was surprised to see her. She was dressed in a blue dress with mid-heel sandals.
“Zee.” She exclaimed.
They rushed into each other’s arms before disengaging.
“You’re looking good, Zee.”
“Thanks. And you too, my friend.”
“You are the last person I expected to see.” She was still surprised.
“Same here. What are you doing here?”
“I’m on a date.”
“That’s nice. Who is he? You never really updated me about the last dare.”
“I still don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fine. I won’t push it but I’m curious.”
“I know. At the right time, I will.”
“Where is Caleb?”
“He’s with the Nanny.”
“I thought you didn’t want a Nanny?”
“I changed my mind.”
“Good. Why are you here anyway? Is Lemuel here too?”
“Yes, he is. He has a business meeting here with... in his words, - The guy is a prolific wine producer.”
Zee’s mind went to Michael. It could be him. “Did you meet the person?”
“Yeah. He’s really hot and so intense. I don’t even understand much about what they are discussing. I was praying they would not clash because he reminds me of Lemuel. They are both intimidating. But the meeting seems to be going on well. I was just watching the TV, messing with my phone, and eating at my own corner before I felt pressed and ran into you.”
“Okay. Happy to see you, Dear.”
At that moment, someone opened the glass door of the VIP section of the restaurant, revealing Michael’s bodyguards and Michael himself.
Zee and Inara were already facing their direction and Michael spotted Zee instantly.
He halted upon seeing her, his guards noticing and hanging at a corner of the space. His eyes registered surprise at the sight of her. Zee tried not to look guilty and forced a smile as he drew forward.
Zee immediately hugged Inara. “In case of anything, please say that I came to see you briefly to collect something important.” She whispered urgently in Inara’s ear, praying that Inara’s dumb behavior will not surface. “Please, if you have ever wanted to help me without question or act smart, this is the time.” She disengaged from Inara as Michael paused before them, towering over them.