“We need to get ready,” Jade said.
“It’s two in the afternoon. Dinner isn’t until seven.”
It was finally my twenty-first birthday. Jade and I were taking it easy in order to save energy for tonight. She’d made me breakfast, and we’d ordered sushi for lunch. We were going to dinner with my parents, Val and Reggie, before we went to the club. I’d given a guest list to Reggie, and he’d rented out the VIP section of Addiction. It was one of the newer clubs in town and was highly exclusive.
“And it’s going to take hours to turn you into a birthday princess.”
“Rude. I could go just like I am and still be a princess.” Jade rolled her eyes at me.
“What are you doing with your hair?”
“It needs to be washed.” I had three c curls, which meant they needed a lot of management and care. “It’ll take me about an hour and a half to do everything I need to do to it. I’ll shower first, shave and exfoliate- that’ll take thirty minutes. Thirty minutes for my makeup and ten to get dressed. Means I need less than three hours to get ready.”
“And we need to order a car at six to get to the other side of town on time for your dinner reservation.”
“Thirty more minutes,” I whined, not wanting to get out of bed. We’d been binging true crime stories on streaming services all day. It was our guilty pleasure.
“One more episode,” she said.
Jade and I lost ourselves in the newest mystery, which wasn’t actually all that different from the other ones. No wonder more and more women were choosing to stay single; men could be terrifying. It was always the husband or boyfriend- aways.
As the credits rolled, reminding us that actors had been portraying the crime, which I never understood why they did. Of course it was actors. Who would actually believe that film crew followed a husband into the woods as he was trying to dispose of his wife’s body? As they were rolling, Jade ordered me into the shower.
“Yes, mom,” I rolled my eyes at her.
“Don’t sass me,” she said.
“It’s my birthday. I’ll do whatever I want.” She laughed at me but didn’t counter.
Walking into the bathroom, I grabbed my shower cap. I couldn’t wash my hair in the shower; the humidity was too damaging, and excess water wasn’t good for it.
I took my time shaving and washing my body. Climbing out, I moisturised from head to toe and wrapped myself in a soft robe.
Taking my sower cap off, I let the water run on the sink and made it lukewarm. Bending over at the sink, I washed it and conditioned it, letting the conditioning mask sink in a little while. Once it was rinsed, I wrapped it in a microfiber towel so that it wouldn’t have too much frizz. Managing my hair was such hard work, but I absolutely loved my curls. I’d hated them when I was younger. I was the only one at school with curls like mine, and they’d always made me feel different. It was only in the last few years that I realised how beautiful they were. My mama always told me they were, but it had taken me years to believe her.
Once my hair was still mostly damp, but no longer dripping, I added an array of products- a natural oil that was infused with lavender, a curl defining mousse and last, a whipped butter gel. All the products were lightweight and wouldn’t weigh my curls down. Once I’d had the products added, I grabbed the blow dryer and the diffuser attachments and started blow-drying it with cool air. It took so long because I had so much hair. It fell to my shoulders in its curly form, but on the extremely rare occasions I had it relaxed, it fell nearly to my waist. I liked the way I looked with it relaxed too, but it was so easy to damage it like that. It wasn’t worth the risk, especially when it took so long to grow.
Once I had my hair done, I left the bathroom.
“Your turn,” I told Jade.
I still had an hour to do my makeup and get dressed, but not wanting to be reprimanded by Jade again, I started right on my makeup. My skin was pretty decent, so I only ever used powder foundation. Rihanna’s fenty beauty line was a godsend. For the first time, I was able to find a shade that actually matched my skin tone without having to mix or deal with something that was going to be too light or too dark. Shade 350 was perfect for me. A fine layer of blush, contour and highlighter later, I started working on my eye makeup. I had pretty full brows already, so all I did was use a wax styler to hold them in their natural, full shape. I blended a few shades of eyeshadow on my eyes and added an eyeliner before finally painting my lips in the uncensored red, which was my absolute favorite.
Jade was already done with her shower, her hair not needing to be washed. It looked like she’d run the straightener through it again when she walked back into my room.
“Holy smokin’ hot stuff,” she said to me. “Seriously, if Mikey doesn’t notice you tonight, I’m going to start thinking he might be gay.”
“God, I hope not,” I said. “I mean good for all the men, but at least if he’s straight I have some type of chance.”
She laughed at me.
“Who’s your sister-in-law bringing for me?” She asked.
“I didn’t ask.”
“Rude,” she huffed.
Sitting on my bed, she did her own makeup.
“And you call me smoking hot,” I said.
She shrugged. “I’ll do.”
“And whatever hockey player shows up will probably do you too.”
“God, I hope so. It’s been too damn long.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“I can’t believe you’re still holding out for Mikey after all these years.”
“I’m not holding out. I just haven’t found anyone who peaks my interest like he does.”
“Get dressed,” she said as she was walking out of my room.
Walking to my closet, I grabbed the white dress I’d bought for tonight and hung it on the back of my now closed door.
It was pretty modest, except for how short it was. It had a high scoop neck, long puffy sleeves and a slight dip in the back that stopped between my shoulder blades. But it was so short that if I bent over, I’d flash everyone my panties. I’d never usually wear something this daring, but you only turn twenty-one once. It was lace and sparkly at the same time and made me feel like a princess like Michael always called me.
Slipping my feet into the broken in pumps, I grabbed my black Louis Vuitton clutch Reggie had gifted me for my eighteenth birthday, tucked my phone, credit card, and lipstick into it before stepping out of my room. “I’m ready!” I called.
“Me too,” Jade said, walking out of her room. Her dress was sleeveless and black. It was a good bit longer than mine, but had a slit up to nearly her hip. It cinched her waist, and she looked gorgeous.
“Let’s turn you twenty-one right,” she said and linked her arm through mine. I ordered a car as we walked up the stairs out of our basement apartment.
Jade and I were the last to arrive, even though we were still five minutes early to our reservation. “My baby,” my mom gushed. “You look incredible. So grown up.” She was already getting a little teary-eyed.
“Hey, kiddo,” my dad said, hugging me after my mom had finally released me. “You look beautiful.”
Reggie and Val hugged me too, and in true overprotective, older brother fashion, Reggie grumbled about his dress. Val swiftly reminded him he had no right to make arguments against my clothing choices and that he’d hated Mikey in high school for treating her the same way. I beamed with pride at her as my older brother looked thoroughly put in his place.
“Let’s go eat,” he said. Reggie was the first to walk into the upscale restaurant. “Bienvenue á Balthazar,” the maître d’ greeted us in perfect French.
“Good evening. Reservation for Howard.”
“Yes, table for seven.”
“Is your entire party here?”
“No, but our last one is pulling up the valet right now.”
“Who are we missing?” I asked Val.
“I invited Mikey. That’s okay right?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Jade had been holding my hand and squeezed it, attempting to calm me. She was the only one who knew how nervous I would be in his presence.
“Very well,” the man spoke to Reggie again. “Follow me.”
Reggie and Val lead our group, with Jade and me sandwiched between them and my parents. We were seated at a large, round table in the middle of the restaurant. Even amongst one of the most exclusive restaurants in town, people were openly staring at Reggie, the hero quarterback of the city. Thankfully, nobody approached him.
“Good evening, my name is Gaston, and I’ll be your server tonight.” Gaston immediately made me think of Beauty and the Beast. Balthazar was known for its French cook and all French wait staff with traditional French names. The last time we’d been here, we’d had a server named Fleur. It was a beautiful name, and I’d been obsessed with French names ever since. Dad said it was probably because his grandparents and immigrated from France.
It probably didn’t, but I indulged his thoughts about it anyway.
“Sorry I’m late,” I heard Michael’s voice before the server could say anything else. Somehow, the only empty seat had ended up between me and Val. Jade was sitting on the other side of me, and I knew she was suppressing a smirk. “Happy birthday, princess,” he said. As he sat down, he put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in to kiss me on my cheek.
“Thanks,” I said, fighting the warmth in my cheeks.
“Can I start you off with something to drink?” Our waiter asked after the interruption had died down.
“A bottle of pinot grigio and a bottle of pinot noir for the table,” Reggie ordered.
“Can I see your identification?” He directed the question at both Jade and I. I fished my ID out of my clutch and happily handed it over. “Joyeux anniversaire, mademoiselle,” he said.
“Merci,” I replied in horrible French, but he offered me a smile anyway. Jade handed her’s over next.
“And water with lemon for everyone,” Val ordered.
“I’ll be right back.”
With that, he disappeared.
“So what’s happening after dinner?” My mom asked. “Don’t worry, the old folks know they’re not invited.”
“Guess that means it’s just me and Val,” Jade teased.
“We are not old,” Val quipped at her. “You’ll change your mind about what old means when you hit thirty.”
“No way. I’m still on the right side of twenty-five,” my best friend said to her. “No thinking about that for a long time.”
“Thirty isn’t all bad,” Michael said next to me. I turned to look at him. “You figure out what you want out of life; you’ve learned from your mistakes. It’s a good age.”
I had questions about what he meant by knowing what he wanted. Was he finally done with living his playboy lifestyle? If he was ready to settle down, would he even notice me?
Before anybody could comment, our server was back and opening the wine. Val tasted the red while Reggie sampled the white, approving both of them. Glasses were poured all around and I took white, and just a small glass. I didn’t want to mix my alcohols and get super sick. There was definitely liquor in my future.
Dinner passed with a lot of laugher and storytelling. Val and Reggie talked about their kids while Michael told stories of living on the West Coast and how crazy he thought all the people were out there. It sounded like a completely different world. Jade was enthralled, but not because it was Reggie, but because she dreamed of being a California girl.
When the bill came, Reggie paid it, despite our dad’s protests.
We were standing outside, waiting for the valet to show up with the three cars. “Have such a good time,” my mom said. My parent’s car was the first to arrive. “Be safe.”
“I will, mama. I love you.”
“Call me tomorrow.”
I hugged my dad too, and they were off.
“You can ride to the club with us,” Val said.
“I didn’t get the car seats out of the car,” Reggie said.
“They can ride with me,” Michael offered.
“Thanks,” I said shyly. The cars arrived at the same time.
Reggie and Val climbed into their Audi SUV while Jade and I climbed into Michael’s Mercedes Coup. I didn’t know right away what the model was. Jade had to squeeze in the back, but she swore she was fine.
I was entranced by the way Michael drove, switching gears and changing lanes. Why was a man driving a manual transmission so much sexier than an automatic? Maybe I was the only one who thought like that. That and having him put his hand on the headrest of my car while he parallel parked outside the club had my hormones in overdrive.
When we climbed out, I straightened my dress. “You look beautiful, princess,” he said.
The problem was beautiful could have two different meanings. Beautiful could be something a man said to his woman, but it was also what Reggie and my dad had said to me. In which way had he meant it?
Reggie and Val walked up to where we were waiting for them. Reggie gave his name to the doorman, even though I was sure he knew who he was without having to be told.
It was close to ten when we arrived, and the club wasn’t that busy yet. It would be soon. Jade had said we’d be there way too early, but Reggie needed to leave early for his game tomorrow and he’d wanted to have a drink at his sister’s party. The bass bumped as we wound our way through the dance floor and to the VIP section.
We’d only been sitting a few minutes when a server walked up, a big smile on her face. Jealously filled me when I watched her rake her eyes over Michael. “What can I get you?”
“Bottle of Goose, bottle of Hendrick’s, Bottle of Macallan eighteen, and a bottle of Patrón,” Reggie ordered.
“Mixers?” She asked as she finished scribbling on her notepad.
“Salt, and lime for the tequila, soda water, tonic, cranberry juice, and coke.”
“Be back in a minute,” she said before sauntering off.
“Pace yourself,” Reggie warned me, to which Val, Jade and I rolled our eyes.
When the server brought our drinks back, Val demanded we start with tequila shots.
“Lick, shoot, suck,” Val yelled over the music.
“What?” I asked.
I’d never done tequila shots before.
“Lick your hand, put salt on it. Then lick your hand, take your shot and suck on the lime.”
Val and Reggie licked the salt from each other’s hands, which was a combination of adorable and gag inducing since he was my brother. But I did as she said, licked the salt off my hand, did my shot, feeling the burn of the alcohol and then sucked on the lime. My face pulled into a horrible scrunched position as I pulled the lime out of my mouth.
“Another!” Jade shouted.
Reggie and Mikey sat this one out, but we did another shot anyway.
I was already feeling the effects of the alcohol and dancing in my seat. I made myself a vodka soda, filling the cup with a little more vodka than soda. Michael and Reggie sipped whiskey while Val had a gin and tonic and Jade had a vodka cranberry.
We were just finishing with our drinks when a group of my friends showed up. Josh was amongst them and Jade perked right up. Alicia, Carmon, David, and Marcus were with him. My girlfriends squealed when they saw me, and I jumped out of my seat to hug them. I made quick introductions before doing another shot with them.
“Let’s dance!” I shouted after I’d finished my third shot of the night.
“You coming, baby?” Val asked Reggie.
“Not yet,” he shook his head at her.
Val joined me and our friends in the centre of the dance floor.
My head was fuzzy as I laughed and danced with Jade. She was trying to not be too obvious as she danced next to Josh, but he had to know how she felt about him. Although men seemed to be dense. Reggie hadn’t known for years how Val felt about him. Michael still didn’t know how I felt about him.
“The guy I invited for you is here,” Val yelled into Jade’s ear. We both turned to look.
“Holy shit,” she muttered.
“Hockey player. And he’s got all his teeth.”
My head fell back, and I laughed loudly.
He walked past us to where Reggie and Michael were sitting and shook their hands, sitting down next to them and gossiping like schoolgirls.
All three of them turned to look at us at the same time and we turned, making it look like we hadn’t just been staring at them.
“Let’s dance a little bit longer and then I’ll go introduce you.”
We danced together, but my buzzed feeling never went away, and somehow I managed to not flash everyone my underwear in my dress.
“I need another drink,” I said.
Val led us back to our VIP booth. My friends had been going back and forth between the dance floor and the drinks and walked by us when we walked back.
“Butler, this is my wife, Val, my sister Tyler, and her best friend, Jade.”
“Nice to meet you, ladies. I’m Oliver.”
“Hi,” we all said at the same time. Val practically sat on Reggie’s lap. Jade, confident as ever, sauntered over to Oliver and sat next to him, leaving me to sit with Michael.
“More shots,” I said.
Two rounds of tequila shots later, I was ready to dance again.
This time, Val convinced the guys to brave the dance floor with us. Reggie and Val danced together, and so did Oliver and Jade. Michael stood there a little awkwardly before finally speaking. “Care fora dance, princess?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Can’t let the birthday girl go without a dance.”
“That would be a crime.”
Michael and I danced for two songs the same way my friends did with their men, my back pressed against his chest. I could feel my heartbeat in my ears and it wasn’t from the alcohol. His hands were on my waist, a perfectly acceptable spot, not too high and definitely not too low. A few times, though, I felt his hands travel up or down before returning. It was like he wanted to, but didn’t dare. And I swore that as the last song was ending, I could feel him hardening against me.
After two songs, I needed a break. Moisture was flooding my panties, and he’d barely touched me.
“Bathroom,” I shouted at Jade.
“Me too!” Val said.
The three of us made our way to the back of the club where the bathrooms were.
“Oh my god,” Jade exclaimed. “Oliver is so sexy. And he can dance.” She squealed in delight. “And you!” She said. “Mikey couldn’t keep his hands off of you.”
“What?” Val asked in confusion.
I glared at Jade. Her drunk mind had forgotten that Val didn’t know I was helplessly in love with her brother.
“You have a crush on Mikey?”
“Is that an answer or a question?”
“You know what,” I said before the stupidest idea I’d ever had came out of my mouth. “I’m going to tell him. I’m twenty-one years old. I can’t keep waiting to see if he’s going to notice me.”
“That’s a bad idea, Ty,” Val tried to convince me. I shrugged as if I didn’t care.
I hadn’t even peed before walking out of the bathroom in search of Michael. I found him sitting alone back in the VIP section. Val was hot on my heels, but Reggie stopped her, pulling her back onto the dance floor. I heard her protest, but he couldn’t know what she was trying to stop me from doing.
“Michael,” I said when I sat next to him.
“Hey, princess,” he smirked. He wasn’t drunk like me, but he also wasn’t sober.
“I-I-I,” I stuttered out.
“You what?” He asked, leaning forward, elbows on his knees and a tumbler of whiskey in his hand. He was so sexy that I couldn’t even think.
“Do you want to get out of here?”
“Are you not feeling well?” He asked, his voice full of concern. See? Men were dense.
“No. I’m feeling great. But do you want to get out of here? Go back to your hotel?”
His eyes widened, and he nearly dropped his glass. “What are you saying, Ty?”
“Exactly what you think I’m trying to say.”
“That’s not a good idea, princess.”
“It’s just not.” I stared at him. He’d shut me down. I was definitely going to regret this confession in the morning. “I should go.”
Usually he always kissed my cheek goodbye, but he didn’t this time.
Sitting in the VIP section of a club at my birthday party, I watched him go while the tears started.