A sneak peek at the first chapter of "Miami Confidential"

04/05/2014

CHAPTER ONE
 
 
“¡Aye caramba, it’s hot!” Juanita wheezed in her Cuban accent as she plopped into a chair next to me behind the front desk. Her arm was working overtime trying to fashion a limp piece of folded paper into a high-speed propeller.I peeked over my shoulder and scowled.
   “Oh, quit your whining. You just think it’s hot because you’ve been on the go all day. Honestly, the only complaints I’ve heard around here are from you and the rest of the cleaning staff.”
   “Nu-uh, Señora Nicole. It’s hotter than balls in here. I thinks chu raised the temperature in the hotel again.” She distastefully raised an arm above her head and gave the exposed armpit a whiff. “Got me sweatin’ like a goat in here. Must be at least eighty-five degrees.”
   Sweating like a goat? I presumed she meant pig. Juanita never did get the American sayings right the first time around. My face scrunched in disgust at her cave man gesture. Smelling armpit sweat. Was it really necessary? As if the mere odor from her underarms was equivalent to the role of a thermostat that would conclusively report the exact temperature of the hotel lobby.
   “Juanita, I set the general area for eighty-one and I’m not lowering the temperature anymore. The cost of electricity last month was the highest yet, and besides, the customers crank down the A/C in their rooms anyways. I’m sorry but you’re going to have to make due like the rest of us.”
   “Mhmm,” she glowered at me. “Well don’t chu come complaining to me when chur customers begin to flee to other hotels ‘cause they don’t wanna catch a heatstroke. I’m just sayin!” She innocently pulled her hands back, adding, “It’s bad for the customers, too, chu know?”
   I rolled my eyes. I still had no intentions of budging. I was the Money Nazi when it came to the hotel’s budget and expenses. We could not afford to pay another electric bill like we did in April. Juanita and the other hospitality workers could fuss all they want, but ultimately the financial decisions were my responsibility. I’m the manager. I pay the bills. And yes, I’ll admit the rumors are true that I am a cheapskate.Then again, I was able to rationalize my prudent spending tendencies since I did have a valid reason for being tight with the hotel money.
   The economy wasn’t at its strongest point. Being that our hotel was dependent on tourism, matter of fact, the majority of Miami was dependent on tourism, this was unfortunately one of the first areas to fluctuate when the economy hit a rough patch. We weren’t receiving the same booming headcount that we used to have several years ago. I imagine this was mostly due to the financial state our country was in, but I’d also bet that the recent incidents in the area didn’t contribute positively to our track flow either.
   The need for customers was evident when balancing our check book. Between the costs associated to run this place and to pay the staff on hand, there wasn’t much margin for profit on our off seasons. To embrace the silver lining, at least we were quickly approaching our busy season of the year. We should be able to cover some ground that we lost from earlier in the year over the next few months.
   I clicked through one of the computers at the front desk. “Room 437 needs a thorough standard cleaning. The couple checked out early this morning and it’s ready for you,” I announced to Juanita.
   “Ay, ay, ay.” Juanita shook her head and stomped off towards the elevator. She’d be back again with more complaining, I’m sure of it. I could always count on her for that. As she headed in the other direction I watched her smack the elevator button and tap her foot impatiently while she waited for the elevator to arrive. Juanita was barely over five-feet tall. Her round, plump body sat heartily on her stumpy legs.
   Although she came to work with her black, curly hair in a tight, slicked back, low bun, in less than a few hours it never failed to transform into a mane of black frizzy fly-aways. Somehow her hair managed to convert itself into an uneven pair of horns protruding from the top corners her head. I felt the symbolism was appropriate.
   Juanita had a pair of dark chocolate brown eyes which were usually wide-eyed and alert because of something she heard about in the daily gossip. Then when she discovered something really worth gossiping about, her all-too-enthusiastic, gap-toothed smile would expand from ear to ear. Yes, indeed. Juanita loves the gossip.
   When it’s especially juicy, she’ll chatter faster than an auction spokesman with a bad case of diarrhea. Her words practically pile on top of one another with her thick Cuban accent. In addition to that, her tongue will engage in a game of peek-a-boo between her two front teeth. She really is a sight to see when she gets all wound up.
   I finished dabbling on the computer and left the front desk to Rose and Valerie, the two teenage employees who work as Front Desk/Member Services Representatives. Half of the staff around here were disrespectful, midriff-flashing, teeny boppers just trying to earn some extra spending money for their next adventure with “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
   Oh, I was well aware of their extra-curricular activities since kids these days apparently think it is okay to talk about their Mary Jane trips within earshot distance of their boss. How quickly they forget that adults have a hearing range of a distance greater than three feet. Oye. Teens. They aren’t so bright sometimes.
   I shook my head free of the pessimistic thoughts and dismissed myself from the front desk. I strolled over towards my separate office on the opposite end of the lobby where I could take refuge from the gossiping Hollister groupies.Once I closed the office door behind me, I flopped onto my bright orange leather chair. It was stiff and awkward, and much too loud for my taste, but according to our overly priced interior decorator, ‘exuberantly festive modern designs are the only way to go.’
   The rest of the hotel was decorated to the max with vivid, tropical colors accented by a certain appeal of modern sleekness. The hotel is beachfront property. Smack dab in the middle of the Double Tree and Courtyard Marriott on South Beach Miami.I leaned across and opened the wooden plantation blinds to look out the window. A turquoise blue pool lay atop the creamy-colored ceramic stone, and towards the end of the pool lay a tiki hut where drinks were served on the back patio. Follow the patio but a few feet further down the steps and your toes would instantly emerge into the warm sand of the beach. From there it’s a clear shot to the shoreline.
   The ocean was reflecting small slivers from the glistening sun, beckoning me to strip off my suit and dive into the cool water. I snapped the blinds shut, deciding it best not to entertain the idea. When I plopped back into my seat at my desk, a mountaintop of papers impatiently awaited me. It consisted of bills, finances, inventory checklists, bills, room reports, bills, scheduling changes, advertising proposals…oh, did I mention bills?
   Simply thinking about the numerous tasks left for me to handle sent me into an uncontrollable spiral of anxiety. I smacked my hand to my chest and clenched my suit jacket in a cold ninja grip. My breathing became short and jagged while my heart began to bounce out of control within my ribcage.
   “Goddamnit!” I gasped in between painful breaths. Where’s my chocolate?Scouting the room, I didn’t see any more Dove chocolates in my candy bowl. So I straightened up and began searching through my purse. Surely there was a spare chocolate somewhere in here.Since the search was proving to be unsuccessful, I did what any other woman would do with a tote-sized purse, and turned the bag inside out to dump all of its contents out. There beneath the receipts I found them, two foil-wrapped pieces of Dove dark chocolates.
   Chocolates and sex were the only two things that truly helped me de-stress. I could be plopped in the middle of Running of the Bulls in Spain, a bull’s-eye tacked to my ass, all the while sporting a red cape and I’d be hunky dory so long as I had some chocolate. Now I don’t think sex given that particular situation would be plausible, but in many other situations sex worked just as well, too.I peeled back the foil wrapping and chomped down on the chocolatey goodness. Deliciousness filled my insides and my body started to ease up. My breathing eventually returned to normal and my muscles began to relax. The overwhelming feeling that had come over me regarding my To Do List alas subsided.Much better.
   When I balled up the wrapping and tossed it in the trash can against the far wall, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the hanging mirror.
   “Whoa.” My eyes widened then zoned in on my hair which was now protruding in all different directions from my mini anxiety attack. I skirted over towards the mirror on the wall and licked my fingers before I smoothed my hair back into its rightful place.As I wiped away black residue from my eyeliner, I locked eyes with mine in the mirror for a split second too long. My eyes were a soft green, the same color as my sisters, but unlike hers mine seemed to constantly display signs of exhaustion.
   My hair, which was now slicked back into its rightful place, was the color of dark coffee and was tied into a low, professional bun. Once in a blue moon when I actually let my hair down, it was easily to the middle of my back. However, it has become such a pain in the ass to fix that I hardly ever bothered with it anymore.I brushed my fingers beneath my eyes in attempt to magically force the dark circles under my eyes to disappear. Eh. Oh well. It’s not like I am trying to impress anyone anyways.
   My cheekbones were high and distinctive, definitely from my dad’s genetics. I could say with confidence that my cheekbones were probably my best physical attribute. As for the rest of me, I’d consider myself…average. About five-feet-seven, natural curves, decent weight depending on my stress-induced chocolate intake. It’ll fluctuate like most others.
   Turning sideways at the mirror I gave myself the once over. I was probably pushing around a few extra pounds these days. I sighed. It must have been those donuts on the way to work this morning. No, wait. Maybe my dryer just shrunk my clothes a little? I preferred the latter excuse, so I decided to roll with it instead.
   My skin tone appeared drained of color. Most wouldn’t have guessed I was full-blown Italian because of my paleness. If I actually have some spare time I’ll catch a few rays down on the beach to rejuvenate my dormant tan. That’s if, a very big if.
   Before I parted with the mirror, I tugged my navy blue suit jacket back into alignment and flattened a crinkle out of my skirt. There.
   Suddenly the office phone rang which sprung my attention back to work. I answered, “Sunset Cove Hotel and Resorts, this is Nicole, how may I assist you?”
   “Yes, I’d like to book a room for you and your future lover boy, please. The one I just set you up on a blind date with,” his voice snapped with a hint of sassiness. Clearly it was Landon, my flamboyantly gay best friend. ‘Loud and proud,’ as he puts it with the snap of his fingers and a chicken head wobble to go with it. Such the diva.
   “Landon, don’t tell me you set me up on another one of your blind dates again. The last guy you tried to hook me up with was a body builder only interested in the tape measurement size for the circumference around his biceps. Not what you’d call much of a conservationist.” Not much of anything going on upstairs either, if you asked me.
   “Oh come on Nicky, he was supposed to be for sex only. He pays the dinner bill, gives a good screw, and ditches after a steamy one night stand. You don’t actually try to have a conversation with him. The only words you’d need to exchange would be trampy little phrases, like ‘Ay, Papi’ in between orgasms.” He sighed. “Hell, honey, if you don’t know what to do with a man, just pass him over to me. I’ll show you.”And I didn’t doubt him.
   “Well considering the fact that a woman’s orgasm is ninety percent mental, if we weren’t even connecting on a basic level of common brain waves, then I wouldn’t be screaming Hallelujah to the gods above my bed anyways. I’ll take my chances that he just wasn’t for me.”
  “Okay, okay, so maybe he wasn’t the best match, but this guy I met outside of Jamba Juice is absolutely perf for you.”
   “Details?” I can’t believe I’m getting sucked into another one of these.
   “His name is Marco, he is six-foot, good looking, single, early thirties, and enjoys long walks on the beach.” Great. Another closet homo who has yet to emerge from secrecy. Landon just wants me to turn him gay like that Frank guy he tried to set me up on a date with. I believe he goes by the name Franquito now.
  “Uh-huh,” I mumbled.
   “Anyways, I already gave him your number so you should be expecting—“
   “Hold on a minute,” my brows furrowed. “You already gave him my number, without asking me? What if I had said no?”
   “I know you too well. You wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet a potential romance. You, my dear girl, are a hopeless romantic. And a desperate one at that.” I rolled my eyes. This was true. I was getting desperate. Already twenty-seven and still no prospects in sight. I was acting against Mother Nature by remaining unmarried this long. Speaking of mother…
   “Crap, I’m late,” I jumped. “Landon, I have to go. Ma ordered me over for an early dinner tonight. I need to get moving so give me the remaining details in under sixty.”
   “Ugh, you know I hate to be rushed. It gets me all stressed out and flustered. I feel like I’m—“
   “Focus, Landon!”
   “Right. Marco will call you in a few days, more than likely. It’s only Wednesday, but by Friday you should have heard something from him. He likes sushi. So grin and bear it if need be.”
   Disgusting. Sushi has never been a favorite of mine. I could tell Marco and I were already off to a clean, honest start.
   “Marco. Sushi. Friday. Got it. Call you later?”
   “Ciao, Ciao love,” he sighed. Once I hung up the phone, I rushed to collect the contents of my purse that were still sprawled out on my desktop and shoved them back into my purse. I quickly organized the papers and bills on my desk into two piles: first priority and second. As I slung my purse over my shoulder, I estimated the amount of time it would take to reach Ma’s house across town.
   If I showed a little leg to the taxi drivers, I could probably land a ride in under twenty seconds, plus the twenty minute drive. I glanced at the clock in the lobby before I rushed through the entrance doors. 5:46 p.m. I’d never make it there by six, which meant I’d never hear the end of it from Ma. Great.
   Just outside the steps, I whipped my fingers into my mouth and gave a sharp whistle as I waved my other hand at the swarm of taxies on the street. One immediately pulled up in front of me and I hopped in the back seat.
   “Where to, lady?” the cab driver grunted across the seat. He had a three-day stubble beard growing in and sported a pair of plastic orange sunglasses. He was sweating and his hair was slicked back with what I assumed was grease from his lack of showering. At least I’m guessing he didn’t shower, maybe ever, because the entire cab smelled like grunge with a body odor so pungent it burned my nostrils.
   I hurriedly shouted Ma’s address while I checked my purse for some kind of body mist; if the cab’s stench was this strong there was no way the scent wouldn’t follow me around for the rest of the evening. “And I’ll tip you ten if you can make it there by six,” I added with a shred of hope.
   “Make it twenty.”Damn. Guess it wouldn’t be America if someone wasn’t taking advantage of another’s desperation.
   “Fifteen,” I bargained.What can I say? I own up to my legacy as a tight wad. That seemed to do it because he took off like a bat out of hell. I was clenching onto the seat for dear life to the point that I nearly broke my nails.
   As I peeked around the cab I noticed several interesting pieces of décor. An adorable childhood nursery rhyme was scratched into the seat that read:
 
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Open your legs wide,
And I’ll show you a thing or two
 
   Oh. That’s nice. Must have been another teeny bopper who came up with that ingenious rhyme. On the floor I saw an old, grimy tennis shoe that was covered in filth and simply oozed of some kind of bacterial fungus. Just above that, on the seat, I discovered some kind of elastic thing. Looked like a popped balloon or something. Maybe some little kid got their white birthday balloon stuck in the taxi door.
   I leaned over to see what other magical treasures I could discover in the back seat, but as I neared what I thought was a balloon, I found out that it was in fact a condom. A used one. Yum. I was definitely hungry to go eat dinner now.
   “Christ! A used condom, really? When was the last time you cleaned your cab? I feel like I’m obligated to contact the CDC to have this thing quarantined.” He shrugged nonchalantly, clearly a fan of his own filth.
   I sat upright in my seat, veering as far away from the disgusting thing as possible. I reached into my purse and fished out my hand sanitizer. After I squirted half the bottle in my hand, I began to scrub down my hands as well as any exposed glimpse of skin. When he pulled to an abrupt stop in front of Ma’s house, I checked the clock on the dashboard. I threw the money at him and hurried onto the sidewalk.
   “Hey lady,” he shouted out the window. “Where’s the fifteen dollar tip?”
   “I said six o’clock, not six o’three.”
   “Cheap ass,” he added before he peeled off. Yeah, I got that sometimes.
   I almost leapt to Ma’s back door, still trying to sneak in without hearing her psychobabble about my tardiness resulting in her near heart attack. She’d go on about how she was just about to call the police because she was worried that something happened to me. I don’t think I could stand to listen to another fifteen minute speech about skipping out on a lousy three minutes. Not worth it.
   After I located the spare key from under the flower pot, I unlocked the door and slipped right into the washing machine room. The dryer was booming away so I prayed she didn’t hear me.I tiptoed into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Just then Ma stomped through the kitchen to the oven.
   “Nicole Marie D’Angelo.” The full name is never a good sign.
   “Yes, Ma?” I hesitated.
   “Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you. I thought you could have been kidnapped or something. You know, like those adult kidnappers who prey on single, vulnerable women. Why are you so late? What were you doing?” She shot an array of questions at me.
   “Ma,” I began. “I was only three minutes late. Don’t work yourself into heart palpitations or anything. I came straight from work. No kidnappers.”
   “Nicole,” she placed the hot quesadillas onto the island counter top. “Being late is a bad reflection of character.” I slumped down into my chair, preparing for the next wretched fifteen minutes of my life that I’d never get back. Just as she was beginning to jump into her spiel, my sister bounced into the kitchen.
   My little nuisance of a sister proved herself good for something for once since her entrance distracted Ma from her train of thought.
   “Mmmm,” my sister was nearly drooling over the plate of food. “That smells delicious, Ma.” With that she got out a plate for herself, piled some quesadillas onto it, and plopped onto the kitchen chair.I rolled my eyes and stood up.
   I took out two plates, one for Ma and me, and served us both. We wandered over to the table where Vi had already dug into her mountain pile of food.“Nice Vi,” I smirked. “Who taught you those table manners?”
   She sat back in her chair and stared for a long second. “And who did you sit next to? Ugh. You smell like a dirty cab.” Stupid taxi ride.
   I self-consciously snuck a whiff at my blouse. A shower when I got home was a must. I glared across at Vi. I wanted to make a snide remark back, but she didn’t smell like dirty cab, more like Dior perfume. Quickly I did a glance over. Let’s face it. There was nothing I could poke fun at concerning her looks. She was perfect down to her nails, which were long, trimmed, and painted a sheer peach. It was very flattering with her sun-kiss tanned skin.
   My sister, Violet, or Vi as everyone calls her, was the beautiful one out of us. She had legs for days, which were thin and toned. Any other woman’s worst nightmare. Vi had the same light green eyes as me.Her hair was trimmed into a stylish bob cut, longer in the front and shorter in the back. Her hair was a lighter shade than my deep brown, and she had natural sun streaked highlights in her hair from being out on the beach during the day.
   I’d regrettably admit that my sister has the looks of a goddess. And as irritating as it was to be compared looks-wise to her, at least I knew that I had her beat in other areas of the gene pool.
   For starters, I had actually finished college and she dropped out halfway through. Not that college was anything I held over her head, but it did irk her to know that school was something that came much easier to me. As far as careers go, Vi found herself working from one local bar to the next. Meanwhile, I’ve maintained the managerial position at the same beach front property hotel for the past several years. Where Vi had the looks of the family, I had the stability.
   I raised a brow patiently waiting for her to finish the mouth full of quesadilla she recently shoveled in her mouth. “So Vi, how are things at work?” I drew a dramatic sigh. “I just couldn’t imagine working night shifts like that.” I took pleasure knowing how much she hated working nights since it imposed on her nightlife style.
   Vi forcefully shoveled some more guacamole onto her quesadilla. “You couldn’t imagine working nights because you are in bed every night by nine-thirty, old lady,” she tilted her head to the side.I felt the blood start to boil beneath my skin. She knew age was a sensitive subject for me. She was only twenty-three, still practically a child. Meanwhile I’m twenty-seven, going on forty. Well I mean, at least I will be forty soon.
   I shoved my food aside and was about to stand up from the table when Ma began to shout, “Oh Nicky, sit your bony ass back down.” I plopped back down in my seat. “Damnit Vi.” Ma shook her head, “We are going to enjoy our dinner for once. No screaming, no arguing, and none of that passive aggressive bullshit you girls are so fond of.”
   We were silent, both of us deciding not to tick Ma off any more than she already was. Though she was known for her motherly nagging and long winded tangents, in general she was the laid back type.
   So laid back, in fact, that as kids she was usually late to pick us up from school, and couldn’t care less about what time we stayed up on a school night. In high school, she would buy us a bottle of booze on our birthdays and we’d celebrate by drowning ourselves in it as we sang ‘Coconut’ by Harry Nilsson.
   Over the past decade I’ve analyzed to death this so-called ‘family unit’ that we have going on here. I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Ma is the reason I turned out to be the reserved and reliable one in the family. Seriously though, there at least has to be one responsible person in every family. If Ma wasn’t sneaking a smoke or downing a drink out next to the garage, then she was at the races, betting away our money for next month’s electric bill on some losing horse.
   She still has issues with gambling, the horse races being her weakness, though she will never admit it. As a result I’ve had to step in from time to time to pay Ma’s debts to keep her out of trouble.
   I know what shrinks would say about me, that I’m an enabler. It’s probably true, but what else am I supposed to do? I can’t just let her work herself into a situation where some guy is about to bust her knee caps in over a few grand.
   So I’m kind of like her babysitter when things go wrong at the tracks. I bail her out so her electricity isn’t shut off. Of course as a result of her costly bad habit, I’m twenty-seven years old and still without a car.
   Vi has even tried to bum off of my own place, but that’s where I drew the line. Vi plus me…it’s like oil and water, matches and fuel, Walmart and Prada. Simply a no-go.
   Therefore in an attempt to prevent such a catastrophe, Ma’s letting Vi live under her roof instead. This is the same house we moved to when Dad passed away. Packed all of our belongings and left New York for Miami.
   I glanced back over at Ma. “So what’s new with the Delightful Daisies this week?” Ma was a member of her neighborhood book club which consisted of all sorts of elderly, suburban women. And yes, they actually called themselves the Delightful Daisies. They even have a specially designed badge to wear at their meetings and important events. Ma claims it is a badge of honor. Vi and I agree it is a badge of shame and embarrassment.
   “It’s my turn to be the host for next week’s meeting and, well, you know Martha,” Ma snorted. “She wants me to make some complex Japanese dish and serve elaborately stuffed spring rolls as a side. She mistakes me for someone who cares.” Ma was a good cook. Her kitchen probably ranked in the top three of my favorite restaurants. But being that she was a true, native New Yorker at heart, she didn’t bother with some of the Southern hospitality and hurrah her fellow neighbors put into house gatherings.
   “Sushi,” Vi interrupted. “Martha just wants you to make a few sushi rolls. They aren’t that difficult, Ma.”
   “Well, then, why don’t you make them?” Ma raised her eyebrows. Vi and I both looked at each other in horror. The last time Vi tried to cook—which wasn’t even cooking, more like microwaving—she tried to heat up a piece of pizza for ten minutes (so that it would be hot by the time lunch time rolled around). Yeah, not the sharpest tool in the shed that one. That little fiasco ended with the microwave catching fire and the house smelling of a burnt aroma for the following two weeks.
   “I have a better idea,” I suggested. “Why don’t you buy a bulk amount of sushi from the store, throw away evidence of the purchase, and serve it to the Daisies as if you made it yourself?”
   “Because it’s the principle of the matter!” Ma never fails to revert back to that excuse. Her argument will not be a situation, but the very principle of the situation. “Martha always expects me to go above and beyond. What do I look like…Betty fuckin’ Crocker?”
   I personally didn’t think sushi was above and beyond, but I wasn’t about to say anything with her face turning that shade of fire engine red.
   “Well, maybe she has a problem with you,” I offered instead. Or more so, maybe Martha has a problem with her husband openly checking out Ma. Really, the man had no shame.
   “Yeah,” Ma nodded. She fancied that rationalization. “She’s probably just jealous of my body.” I stared at her from across the table. Pushing sixty and she thinks she’s still a fox. Originally a brunette, Ma dyed her hair bleach platinum blonde. However, her dark roots had the habit of sticking out like an eye sore when she neglected a trip to the hair salon. Her hair style was fierce with the short gelled spikes which strongly contrasted her soft hazel eyes. Her skin was darkly tanned, partly thanks to her full Italian genes, but also due to spending so much time out in the sun.
   Ma was shorter than me, by a few inches, but she always stood tall and proud; no doubt a trait of that New Yorker self-importance mindset. In spite of all the time we’ve resided in Miami, she has yet to kick that Yankee accent of hers.
   I looked down at my watch and sighed. It was time for me to go home and get ready for, what seemed like, my one hundredth first date. “I need to get out of here so I can get ready for my date tonight.”Vi took our plates from the table and walked over towards the kitchen sink.
   “Oh? Another blind date?”
   “Geez, Nicole,” Ma shook her head. “Why does a woman like you need to go on so many blind dates? You know how to cook, you have an education, and you’re easy on the eyes. Why can’t you date the old fashion way?”
   “First of all Ma, it’s slim pickens out there. The dating world is not what it used to be. And secondly, FYI, it is not a blind date. The guy I’m meeting tonight is an old college buddy of mine who happened to move into town recently.” My smile was smug. I decided it was better not to mention that, however, Landon was also trying to set me up on another blind date with Marco. She would do the whole see-I-told-you-so-look thing. Very annoying.
   “Who is this guy?” Vi pried in interest.
   “Benny Casen.”Vi was stumped trying to picture him.“I don’t think you met this one before. He moved up to Idaho for some time after we graduated, but he moved here several months ago and we happened to bump into each other on the strip.”
   “On the strip? So Benny likes to go out?” Vi began to unconsciously rub her legs together. She loved studs. She loved sex. She loved to party. Put all three together and she could hardly control herself.
   “No, not really,” I thought back to the time I bumped into him. He was a little on the conservative side as far as I could tell. “He said he was just checking out the sights.”
   “Oh,” Vi frowned. “He’s a nerd.” Hardly. He just wasn’t the party type – which happened to be right up my alley.
   “I’ll let you know how it goes.” I pecked Ma on the cheek and exchanged good-byes.The cab picked me up and dropped me off at my place. I hurried along the sidewalk and passed through the bare front yard of my town home. I’ve been meaning to do something with the landscaping and plant some flowers or perky shrubbery, but I haven’t had time lately.
   After I opened my front door, I slung my purse onto the entry table and locked the door behind me. The entry area opened up to the living room which flowed into the kitchen. Dark wooden floors covered every inch of the place, but it was that special, naturalistic kind of wood, you know, the ones with lumps and scratches that are purposely added. I still can’t believe I paid extra to have someone come in here and install scratched up floors.
   My entire house swam in beige. Beige couches, beige pillows, beige walls, beige-speckled granite counters, beige bed spreads. Yeah, I’m not much of the type to step outside of my comfort box. Beige is simple, It’s neat. A lot like me.
   I darted up the stairs to my bedroom, first door on the right. It too was drowned in beige and browns with my California king sized bed plopped against the wall. Two walls were covered in ceiling to floor windows with—surprise, surprise—beige curtains. A pair of French doors would open the room to a much neglected, empty balcony.
   Immediately I began to unbutton my navy blue suit. I untucked my white button down shirt and tossed it onto the edge of the bed, kicked off my heels, and made my way to the bathroom. Once my shower cap was in place, I hopped into the shower and rinsed off the stench from the cab ride.
   Looking at my reflection after I emerged from the tub, I shuddered. I absolutely had to do something about my hair. If I went on a date with my hair still pulled tight in the low bun from work, my date would probably run for the hills in the opposing direction. I kind of resembled a stuck up librarian. Then again, some guys do find that kinky.
   After heating up the straightening iron, I smoothed over my hair until it was straight and under control. Quickly I looped in my black chandelier earrings and reapplied a fresh layer of make-up. Tada.
   I looked semi-attractive. There was definitely a transition between my work look versus my date look. The latter, of course, being easier on the eyes.Now for the lingerie. I tapped my fingers along the entry door way of my closet as I stared at my options. I guess matching bra and panties aren’t so important on the first date, considering I don’t commonly practice the one night stand deal.
   On the other hand, I honestly can’t remember the last time I had sex.I pondered my standards a while longer. Well technically, if Benny and I did the deed, it wouldn’t be a one night stand since I have known him since college. I debated with myself for a few more minutes until I finally decided. Matching panties it is!
   I thought I felt my boobs perk for joy at the mere thought of finally getting laid. Yup! I definitely needed to get some.I slipped into my bright pink push up bra and matching lace panties before stepping into my black, slinky dress. I laced up a sexy pair of strapped stilettos. Shoes. They are not only the number one priority when it comes to wardrobe necessities, but they’re also my established key to confidence. You could not touch my esteem in a pair of F-Me pumps for the life of you.
   As I was rubbing lotion onto my smooth, freshly-shaven legs, my phone chirped downstairs. Wasting zero time, I jumped off the bed and fumbled down the stairs to reach my phone before it went to voicemail.
   “Nicole?” It was Benny.“Benny, hey, I was just finishing getting ready. What’s up?”
   “How are we going to do this?” He sounded stiff and a little awkward, and I assumed it was nerves since it was our first date.
   “Well, we could meet up at the restaurant in say, thirty minutes if you’d like? I was thinking somewhere casual like Rusty’s or Jullian’s Grill?”
   “Actually, I was more in the mood for Prime 112 and I’d be more than happy to swing by and pick you up.” Prime’s? A tad pricey, but hey, if that’s what the guy wants and it’s not on my dime…then by all means.
   “That’s fine with me, but really I don’t mind driving to meet you up there—”
   “I’ll pick you up. I insist.” He seemed pretty adamant about it, so I caved and gave him my address. When we hung up I was confused as to why he wanted to pick me up. I’ve always been told to drive to the first date in case things didn’t turn out well and you have that option for a quick escape.I shrugged it off. I’ve known Benny all throughout college, though never in a romantic sense.
   We were study buddies for several of our overlapping courses.To my recollection during those college classes, I thought of him as a genius. Whenever we had our study groups, it was always him carrying me in the study sessions. Side thought: I wonder if he’s a genius in the sack, too. Guess there’s only one way to find out.
   I rushed around the house tidying up little tidbits here and there. In general I was pretty much a neat freak as it was, so there was only so much straightening up to do. Vi insists I have OCD, but I think cleanliness is a good trait to have. Once the dishes were put away in the kitchen and the pillows were realigned on the living room couches, I hurried to my bedroom for some finishing touches. I tossed my beautification utensils, as Vi calls it, into the make-up bag and slipped it underneath my bathroom counter.
   Then I strolled down the hallway into my guest bedroom and did some light dusting. There, my house was spick and span.
   The doorbell rang and I sped to open the front door just in time to catch Benny Casen finger deep, picking his nose. And when I say finger deep, I do mean digging-for-gold, attempting-to-scratch-his-brain, picking-his-nose finger deep. Quite attractive, I must say.
  “Benny!” I probably sounded a little more disgusted than excited to see him and he instantly whipped his finger out of his nose. Quickly I recovered my composure. “Thanks for coming to pick me up, you’re too thoughtful.”
   “Not a problem,” he kind of managed a goofy grin. “My mom raised me to be a gentleman.” Did she raise you without a proper introduction to the concept of tissues, as well? Besides, who mentions their mom on a first date? I had to stop myself from being a Negative Nancy and skimmed over the mental trash talk.
   “Give her my thanks,” I plastered a half-assed smile on my face.
   “Shall we?” He motioned with one hand out the door and placed the other hand on my back. I prayed he wasn’t touching me with the boogie hand.I skirted out the door and locked up my house once he was out. It was a short drive to Prime’s and when we arrived outside the restaurant, he pulled into the valet parking area. We stepped out of his Volkswagen van—that’s right, a Volkswagen van—and he tipped the valet attendant a quarter. Not at all embarrassing.
   Once we were seated inside a dim lit corner booth, I ordered a glass of wine while he ordered chocolate milk in a glass with a straw. Ma has always said any man that drinks out of a straw is a sissy. Looking at Benny Casen tonight, I’d have to agree with her conclusion. As I stared at Benny slurping through his straw, draining his glass of chocolate milk, I came to the realization that Benny was indeed a nerd. I had already made up my mind that after this date I would purposely never see Benny again.
   “So Benny,” I tried to make some small talk. “Tell me what you think about Miami so far?” Little did I know that minor question would result in the telling of his entire life’s story. From the time he was six and used to be chased around by his older brothers with Nerf machine guns to the very moment before he picked me up at my house this evening. It was no short story, to say the least.
   For dinner, I only had a loaded baked potato since I was still pretty full from the quesadillas I had earlier at Ma’s house. Though I did have a few more glasses of wine as I impatiently waited for this miserable date to be over. Meanwhile, Benny was busy multi-tasking between shoveling chunks of meat into his mouth and monopolizing the conversation, too preoccupied to notice my unreserved frustration.
   Finally, when he stopped to take a breath for air, he ended up choking on his mouthful of food. I’ll admit I was debating whether I should take advantage of this moment to flee from the table and hitch hike a ride home, or whether I should perform the Heimlich and save this man’s life at the stake my poor ears.
   Damn my conscience.
   I reached across the table and started slapping his shoulder forcefully, maybe with a little more force than necessary. Turned out I don’t actually know the Heimlich, but I do know how to smack the shit out of someone. His face began to turn different shades of blue and I began to smack harder to the point that the chunk of meat lodged within his throat, flew across the table and slapped me right on the forehead.
   I leaned back in my chair and calmly remained seated as the lump of half-masticated meat covered in saliva slowly slid down my forehead and dropped into my lap. I didn’t scream, I didn’t cuss, surprisingly I didn’t retch. I just stared directly at Benny as I pursed my lips in disbelief.
   The waiter, who could stand to work on his timing, rushed over and asked if everything was alright.
   “Everything’s. Just. Peachy.” I glowered up at him. “I do believe we’re ready for the check.”
   Benny looked appalled, “But we haven’t even had dessert yet.”
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