KENDALL SHIVERED AS she blindly groped for her blanket. Once she had a corner, she pulled it up around her neck. In the distance, a boat horn tooted a few short blasts. With that, her eyes fluttered open to the expanse of the predawn sky. Huh, was she on the balcony? Had she spent the night outside? She filed through her memories trying to locate the last one from the previous evening.
Bachelorette party… Moscow Mules… Thumper… Strippers.
“Oh no.” Kendall sat up and looked at the other chaise lounge. It was empty. “Phew.” Gio must have left during the night. So Freya should be alone too.
Kendall massaged her pounding temples before she stood. How could she have let herself drink enough to be hung over? How could she have been so weak? Oh the shame.
With her eyes at half mast, she shuffled back inside her apartment toward the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water, and downed the whole thing. She placed the empty glass in the cabernet-stained sink and turned around to inspect the damage. Not too bad.
Thank goodness, she had had the wherewithal to tidy up all the dishes before she fell asleep last night. She didn’t have the time nor the energy to clean before work this morning. Maybe Freya could vacuum before she moved the chairs and end tables back to their designated spots.
Kendall padded through the short hallway to the closed door of the guest room and rapped gently. “Freya? You alone in there?”
No answer. So Kendall turned the knob and braced herself for the worst. “Freya?”
Once inside, she saw that her cousin was, indeed, alone.
“Freya?” Kendall crept toward the bed and placed her hand on Freya’s shoulder.
“Are you awake?”
“What time is it?” Freya’s voice cracked.
“I’m not sure. Sorry to wake you, but I wanted to check on you before I left for work.”
Without opening her eyes, Freya lifted the covers and scooted over, making room for Kendall.
Kendall paused for a second, considering what had occurred between those sheets a few short hours ago. “Which side did you…”
Freya’s right eyelid blinked open. “Get in here, weirdo.”
Putting her head back down on a pillow for a few more minutes would be nice but…
“This side of the bed is clean. Hurry up and get in because I’m cold, and my arm is starting to hurt.”
Freya might be lying, but the pillow beckoned Kendall. She would take a shower in a few minutes anyway. In her current state, comfort should win out over disgust. Kendall submitted to her hangover, crawled under the blankets, and snuggled her cheek against the pillow.
“Tell me everything.” Freya’s voice was low and raspy.
“Nothing happened.” Kendall closed her eyes, and the pounding in her head quieted to a gentle tapping.
“Come on, honey, he was perfect. Especially for you. I saw the way you were looking at him.”
“Yes, he was perfect. But I refuse to sleep with a stranger or a stripper. Or a stranger who happens to be a stripper.”
“Did you at least make out with him?” asked Freya.
“No, I did not make out with him.”
Freya clicked her tongue. “Lost opportunity.”
“I can’t believe you slept with Lucas,” said Kendall.
“Lucas… that was his name. He was pretty perfect too. Much more attentive and skilled than Jim had ever been. Jim, that selfish bastard. One and done. He would never have spent hours making love to me like that young buck had done last night.”
“Not even at the beginning of your relationship?”
“Not even then. Sex was just another task on his to-do list,” said Freya.
“Huh. Well, then, I’m surprised you married him. I’ve always assumed he was better when you were first together.”
“Nope. Not better. I was stupid. For some reason, I thought he’d change.”
“You mean you thought you could change him,” said Kendall.
“Mm-hmm. He worked all the time and was always stressed. I’d hoped he’d learn to relax with me. I’d hoped I’d bring balance to his life. But he was never satisfied with his status or his achievements. He’d reach a goal but then start over again. And his goal post kept moving farther and farther away.”
Kendall understood that dynamic all too well. Her goal posts were on wheels.
“And after my second miscarriage—”
“Freya?” Kendall opened her eyes and studied her cousin’s face. “You had two miscarriages?”
“They both happened early in the pregnancy.” Freya’s eyes remained closed. “Too early to have already made an announcement, so it was easier to say nothing at all.”
“I’m sorry you had to go through that.” Kendall reached for Freya’s shoulder.
Freya opened one eye and pushed her hand away. “Stop it. I’m fine.”
“Was Jim there for you?”
“He tried to be, at least after the first one.” She closed her single eye. “But the second one was too much.” Her jaw tightened. “Fuck him. He’s such a child. I’m lucky I didn’t have his baby.”
“Freya, don’t say that.”
“After the second miscarriage, he worked even more than usual. I was such an idiot. I figured he was trying to distract himself.”
“But he wasn’t?”
“Not with work. He was having an affair.”
“What a jerk!” Kendall sat up.
But Freya pulled her back down. “And that’s not even the worst part.”
“It’s too early for the rest of this story. I wanna go back to sleep.”
Although Kendall wanted to hear the rest, she didn’t press her cousin. “I wish I could sleep more, but I have to go into the office. I’ll get up in a second.” Kendall’s eyelids drooped shut. “Oh, by the way, thanks for covering me last night. I would’ve frozen to death out on that balcony.”
“I didn’t cover you.”
“Really? Huh.” Did Gio cover me?
Freya put her hand atop of Kendall’s and half-heartedly patted it. “Before I drift off, I have a confession to make.”
“I invited the strippers to Ruthie’s wedding,” A smile stretched across Freya’s makeup smeared face.
“I doubt Tristan will approve of your entertainment choice.”
“No, silly. I invited them as our dates so we won’t have to listen to Grandma Bev berate us.”
“But… I already have a date for the wedding.” Under no circumstance would Kendall bring that stripper to a family party, especially when many of the attendees already knew he was a stripper. What would her mother think?
“Oh yeah? Who?”
“Josh.” Kendall lied. She hadn’t considered bringing a date to the wedding let alone Josh. But surely he wouldn’t mind a free night out. No strings attached.
“I thought you two were just friends.”
“We are. I invited him as a friend, and I can’t uninvite him just because I found someone better.” Kendall’s head sank into the pillow as the weight of the covers pushed her body into the warm mattress. She’d stay here for a few more minutes, and then she’d get into the shower.
“Kendall, wake up.”
The smell of coffee filled Kendall’s nose as the sound of a vibrating phone filled her ears.
“Your boyfriend, Josh, needs to talk to you.” Freya stood next to the bed holding Kendall’s phone. “He’s called at least four times.”
“What?” Kendall sat up. “Oh no, I must’ve fallen back to sleep.”
“Do you want me to answer it?” Freya waved the phone over Kendall and smiled.
“Don’t you dare.” Kendall grabbed it out of Freya’s hand.
“Hi, Josh. What’s up?”
“Ken, where the fuck are you?” Josh whisper-yelled. “They’re both here. They’ve been asking for you.”
Her heart instantly pounded a fresh dose of stress filled blood to her brain. His words were the shot of adrenaline Kendall needed to jump-start her body. “Tell them I’m on my way.”
“I already told them you’ve been here all morning but went out on a coffee run. So you’d better get here fast, with coffee.”
“All morning? What time is it?”
“It’s eleven-thirty!” Josh had dropped the whisper part and yelled.
“Crap. I’m leaving now.” She hung up, jumped out of bed, and sprinted to her room. She changed her clothes and then ran into the bathroom, brushed her teeth, and combed her toffee-colored hair back into a low ponytail. Since her bobbed hair was too short to fit into the tie, a thin layer of hair fell back down to her neck.
“You can’t wear your hair like that.” Freya stood in the doorway of Kendall’s bathroom holding out a can of dry shampoo. “Try this.”
Kendall pulled out the tie and sprayed her hair. “Better?”
Kendall inspected her reflection one last time and winced at her bloodshot eyes and dark circles. “Oh man. Do you have any magic sprays to make my face look better?”
“Eye drops and concealer might help.”
“Uh, I don’t have time. Sorry, but I have to run.” Kendall slipped on a pair of black flats and ran for the door. “Will you be okay here, alone?”
“Why wouldn’t I be? Go.” Freya waved. “And tell Josh I can’t wait to meet him.”
Kendall pulled the door shut behind her. Her stomach churned as she raced toward the elevator. Crap, she had forgotten to take an antacid.
As she waited for the doors to open, Freya’s last word echoed through her throbbing head. And tell Josh I can’t wait to meet him.
Ugh, so that conversation about the wedding had actually happened? Kendall had hoped it was a dream. Now, on top of dealing with angry bosses and lies about her starting time, she would have to ask Josh about the wedding.
Luckily, traffic was light, and Kendall made it to the office in record time. But first, coffee. Starbucks was a block down, but The Bean Maestro was right next door. She had never tried this tiny independent cafe before today. It looked cute and smelled delicious. Plus, the line was never as long as the one at Starbucks. Indie coffee would have to do.
Kendall rushed into the shop and up to the counter. A college-aged girl with gauged ears and silver hair leaned against the glass pastry case looking at her phone.
“Hi, I need four large coffees. To Go.”
“Sure.” The girl put down her phone. “Do you want room?”
“Only in one.” Kendall held her credit card out.
“Cash only.” The girl pointed at the handwritten sign taped to the back of the register.
“Right.” Kendall rifled through her purse until she found a twenty. “Sorry, I’m a little stressed. I’m running late. I was supposed to be in my office three and a half hours ago.”
“I feel ya. Sunday mornings are tough.”
Kendall drummed her fingers on the countertop as the girl filled her order.
Once finished, the girl placed the four cups in a cardboard carrier and pushed it toward Kendall. “I marked the one with room. Have a good day.”
“Thanks.” Kendall raced toward the condiment bar and removed the lid from her coffee. She poured some more liquid out of her cup and into the garbage can. Then she added three packets of sugar and whole milk.
As she forced the lid back onto the cup, she glanced up at the corkboard hanging on the wall in front of her. A banner, reading Meet the Barista’s of The Bean Maestro, decorated the top of the board. Pictures of smiling hipsters populated the rest of the board. As Kendall’s eyes wandered from square to square, she was struck by the good looks of all the baristas. The maestro certainly hired a type.
But then her eyes stopped on the single image at the bottom. That barista was not a hipster. He was a stripper. Her stripper. The name on the photo read Giovanni Amante.
“Huh, is that what he meant by entrepreneur?” She leaned in closer to study the lines of his face. Although he wore a grin, his dark eyes glistened making him look almost melancholy. She had an uncontrollable urge to hold him in her arms and make everything okay. To think, they had been in such close proximity to one another this whole time but had never crossed paths before last night. Weird.
Kendall’s phone vibrated, so she dug it out of her purse.
Josh: Where are you?
Kendall: Have coffee. Will be up in a minute.
Kendall looked up at Gio one last time. Oh, how she wanted him. Maybe she couldn’t touch him and comfort him in real life, but she could have this picture of him. Kendall zoomed in and snapped a photo of the photo. Then she scurried away hoping the girl behind the counter hadn’t noticed.
As she rode the elevator up to the fifth floor, a wave of gratitude washed over her. Thank goodness for Josh. Most attorneys she had worked with in the past would never have covered for her as he had done. From here on out, she would have to be more careful. Another misstep on her part might tip the balance in Josh’s favor. She couldn’t mess up again. But, if for some reason Josh got the partnership instead of her, she would try to be happy for him. All things considered, he was a true friend.
The elevator doors opened. She poked her head out first to make sure the hallway was empty. And it was, except for Josh. He was standing outside her office door.
“Psst, Josh.” Kendall rushed toward him.
“There you are.”
“I made it.” She held up the cardboard carrier. “Black coffee. Take one.”
“Thanks.” Josh shimmied the nearest cup out of its square slot.
“No, thank you. I shudder to think about what would’ve happened if you hadn’t called me this morning.”
“Rough night?” Josh smirked.
“Why do you ask?” Kendall unlocked her door and motioned Josh inside.
“You look a little rough around the edges. Was the party fun?”
“It was all right.” She selected the cup opposite the empty square.
“I’d called you a few times this morning before I finally talked to you.”
“Sorry, I didn’t have my phone with me.”
“The first time I called, your cousin answered. She refused to wake you.”
“I can’t believe her.” Kendall looked sideways at Josh as she sipped her coffee. “Did you two talk long?”
“Longer than I’d expected. She had some interesting things to say.” His grin stretched from ear to ear. “What’s this about a wedding?”
Kendall sighed. Freya was such a troublemaker. “My cousin, Ruthie is getting married in two weeks and—”
“And I’m your date? Funny, but Freya talked as if I should’ve known about this already.” Josh kept his eyes on Kendall as he sipped his coffee.
“Don’t worry; I played along.”
“I’m sorry to put you on the spot. I said you were my plus one to get out of bringing a… blind date.”
“Oh?” Josh furrowed his brow. “So, you’re using me.”
“On the contrary, I want you to come. I don’t know why I didn’t think of asking you sooner. We never hang out outside of work. It’ll be fun. Will you come? Pretty please?” Kendall folded her hands under her chin and begged. “You won’t have to worry about anything. I’ll pay for any expenses you might incur. Dry cleaning, valet, whatever. No strings attached. Just two friends, having dinner.”
“Just two friends having dinner…” Josh scratched his chin. “Hmm.”
“Well, maybe we could act as if we’re on a date for my grandmother’s benefit.”
“But it’s not a date.”
“Of course not. But would you mind driving? That’ll make us a more convincing couple.”
“Sure, I can swing that.”
“Josh, you’re a lifesaver.” Kendall picked up the cardboard carrier. “I’d better get these coffees to the bosses before they get cold.”
“I’ll walk with you.”