The bone-rattling beat carried Tallulah to a different plane of reality. The six daiquiris in her stomach acted as a conduit. A dizziness swam in her head, inducing her carefree reaction to the neon strobe lights and the techno beat.
Tonight, she was apart of an annual gettogether to celebrate February 13th which was Galentine’s Day. All those in attendance were old buddies from her old troupe days. Everyone planted roots in Los Angeles to pursue careers in the film industry. Dominga paid her bills as an extra on television and movies. Sonya worked as a theater teacher at an elite private school where the wealthy shelled out thirty-thousand-dollar tuition checks. Valerie was a secretary to a big-shot film executive. After graduating from film school last year, Alexandra became an intern in a popular show’s screenwriting room.
Chaos and obligations plagued their lives, always complicating the frequency of their meetups. So, they devoted a single night to let their hair down and go wild. In previous years, they could barely get into a Los Angeles club, but a name-drop flex secured a VIP booth and all its perks. The name Tallulah dropped belonged to the unpleased man she abandoned at home when Valerie rolled up to the Trousdale glass mansion.
Her departure or the purpose behind it didn’t incur his displeasure. It was the clingy carmine-hued off-shoulder ruched drawstring mini dress she sauntered out in. She told him not to wait up. To which he replied gruffly: “You’ve given me a reason to.”
She assured him she rarely got hit on at clubs.
“That ain’t much of a reassurance. There’s a stark difference between rarely and never,” he countered.
She never went partying on Galentine’s Day expecting a free drink, a dance partner of the opposite sex, or to be flirted on. Though she didn’t admit it aloud in fear, she’d always known she wasn’t a “top-shelf” babe so she never held high expectations at a superficial LA club, but on occasion in the past, loneliness, lowered expectations, and liquor led to lousy sex with a nameless loser. However, she withheld that tidbit to quell his jealousy and pecked his lips to soothe his male ego.
The premium rum laced in the daiquiris watered her confidence and withered away any inhibitions, fueling her every fluid full-bodied sway. Neon strobes highlighted her light sweat. Electric music charged her, pulverizing her ingrained worries. She wasn’t Tally Edmond, the small-time actress. She wasn’t Tallulah, the devoted mother. She wasn’t Desiree, the California king’s consort.
She just was.
She rose her hands overhead, giving herself to the moment as if converting herself to a new religion. The throbbing bass baptized her, and she merged an untroubled creature.
“Girl, let’s get some water into you!” Sonya exclaimed, towing a disappointed Tallulah through the swelling current of fast dancing and back to the roped VIP section.
“The dancing queen has finally returned,” Valerie teased.
She flopped onto the curved leather couch and propped her cheek on Dominga’s shoulder, smiling drunkenly up at her old friend.
“Oh my god, you’re so far gone.” Dominga cocked her head back and laughed, patting Tallulah’s other cheek encouragingly.
Sonya handed her an opened bottle of water. “Drink up, honey.”
“I’m fine,” she slurred in a whiney pout then took a few deep gulps, relinquishing the half-empty container to rest her head on Dominga’s lap. Her eyelids slid shut as her body’s adrenaline plummeted.
“I’ve never seen her like this before,” Alexandra noted worriedly.
“Considering the last four months she’s had, you’d be like this too,” Valerie said. “Let her be a wild child. She deserves it.”
“Well, while all ya’ll and Miss Wild Thang were was wilding out on the dance floor, she left her phone on the table and Nick’s been lighting it up for the last two hours,” Alexandra briefed in a matter-of-factly tone.
Sonya snapped, “You better not have—”
“What the fuck was I supposed to do? I got distracted with a hot dude trying to holler at me and I didn’t see Nick left her twenty text messages,” Alexandra growled. “I didn’t want him to think she was dead!”
Dominga rubbed Tallulah’s bare shoulder, sighing heavily, “What did you tell him?”
“I texted everything was fine, and his reply was he’d be the judge of that himself,” Alexandra stated.
“You had one job, Lexie!” Valerie criticized.
“Uh-uh! We are not going to pull this all on me! For the last five years, I’ve volunteered to watch over our things so nothing gets stolen. Nowhere in that list of responsibilities entail running cellular interference,” Alexandra justified defensively.
Valerie added hesitantly, “She’s right, ladies. We’ve never had to worry about significant others on Galentine’s Day.”
“That’s because none of us have significant others,” Sonya declared.
Dominga reminded, “One of us does now and he’s on his way here.”
“Do you think we can sober her up some?” Alexandra queried.
“Naw, she’s a lost cause. She’s way too plastered,” Valerie guaranteed.
The conversation’s subject drifted in and out of a nap, only rousing when the waitress breached the roped section possessing a tray of more drinks.
“We didn’t order any of this,” Alexandra announced, wagging a no-nope-naw hand gesture at her throat.
“Free drinks courtesy from an influx of gentlemen at the bar taken by your lady in red’s compelling dance routine,” the waitress teased and cocked a chin up at Tallulah, dispensing the medley of delicious poisons onto the table.
After emptying her tray, she used her free hand to extract cocktail napkins from her apron’s pocket, bestowing them to Tallulah. It took a few moments for her drunken mind to discern the napkins weren’t for dabbing at pretty mouths and soaking up spills but instead for dialing up. She’d never gotten a guy’s digits before yet alone eight. Though she had no intention of making a phone call, the napkins stroked her confidence.
It was funny how when she was single no one wanted her, but now as a taken woman, she appreciated in value to a male’s gaze. Or maybe, it was who’d taken her which stimulated such bold interest. Either way, it amused her drunken ass to no end.
Sonya, the slender Nigerian stunner, got two numbers. Valerie, the resident redhead, received three. Alexandra, the bottled blonde caramel-hued honey, got five. Seven come-holla-at-me’s placed Dominga, the Brazilian beauty, as the first runner-up in an unofficial contest she’d normally be crowned winner.
“Do I get a prize?” Tallulah asked distortedly, fanning herself with the napkins.
“Yes, of course. You win a free ride home and a good old-fashioned ass chewing by your man who’s on his way right now to come get you,” Sonya broadcasted.
Tallulah’s proud smile dissolved, her eyes stretching. “What? Why?”
Her questions were answered when Valerie grabbed her forgotten cell amongst the chaos of empty glasses and free colorful cocktails, offering it to her.
9:32PM Nick: You enjoyin yourself?
9:52PM Nick: I guess you are.
10:15PM Nick: I know you need a night off, but fuck I miss you
10:32PM Nick: Got me up in this bed feigin for you
10:59PM Nick: I know you’re turnin heads at that club
11:05PM Nick: I get you’re out in the town livin your best life but shoot me a damn text
11:23PM Nick: Can’t get you in that motherfuckin dress out of my head
11:25PM Nick: When are you comin home so I can peel it off you?
11:27PM Nick: Startin to think you left me feelin some kind of way on purpose
11:36PM Nick: (photo attachment)
A snapshot of him graced the stream midway into the unanswered text messages. The nightstand lamp on his bedside illuminated his half-naked state. His hand laid boldly on a thick bulge which restrained against his boxer-briefs. A sobering bolt of arousal pierced her inebriated hazy panic.
11:36PM Nick: You ain’t on curfew, but how long are you goin to keep me and him waitin?
11:43PM Nick: You look like an innocent angel, but I know you’re not
11:43PM Nick: You’re givin me too much hell and it’s makin me hard as fuck
11:54PM Nick: Here’s a warning out of courtesy
11:54PM Nick: I’mma fuck you like I despise you
12:00AM Nick: Happy Birthday.
12:06AM Nick: You probably got bastards all over you right now.
12:06AM Nick: You’re all fuckin mine. Remember that.
12:07AM Nick: I’ll know if a motherfucker’s hands were on you on that dancefloor
12:07AM Nick: Fuck, I shouldn’t have let you leave the house in that dress.
12:11AM Tallulah: Everything’s fine.
12:11AM Nick: Naw, I’ll be the judge of that. Hang tight.
He sent his last text message over thirty minutes ago.
“Who…texted…for me?” she stammered drunkenly.
Alexandra rose her hand. “That’d be me.”
“You read all of it?”
“Every single word,” Alexandra admitted, smiling knowingly. “The screenwriter in me couldn’t resist.”
“Oh, god.” Embarrassment coated Tallulah’s voice and she guzzled down a raspberry-infused cocktail to purge herself of it.
Dominga snatched up the cell. “What’s all the fuss?”
As she scrolled and scanned, her hazel eyes bulged, and she unleashed a brilliant laugh, reverting to her Portuguese mother-tongue. “Céus!”
Valerie and Sonya acquired the device next, huddling close to read the text messages like two eager teenaged girls. In moments, Sonya clenched her invisible necklace of pearls.
“I can’t believe Nicky is an uppercase zaddy now. Who knew underneath all that beefiness was a beefcake,” Valerie preached, biting her bottom lip longingly.
“Her cell isn’t waterproof. Stop salivating all over the damn screen, bitch.” Sonya side-eyed the redhead, handing the phone back to Dominga.
“Oh, he’s texted you again,” Dominga announced then shamelessly reported what the message was. “He’s outside and he’s waiting for you. The party’s over.”
Tallulah plucked a turquoise-colored cocktail garnished with an orange-peel spiral and slurped down it as her last hurrah. “I don’t want to go yet. The night’s still young.”
“I think you’ve had enough, sweetheart.” Alexandra fished the drained martini glass out Tallulah’s possession.
“It’s time for us all to leave. We’ve been here since eight. The night’s old and needs to settle down for retirement, Ray,” Valerie said.
Sonya cocked her head, her gaze dissecting Tallulah’s reluctance. “This whole thing is wearing you down, isn’t it? Getting back together with Nick?”
A quiet realization blanketed the group.
The Academy Awards was ten days away and unbearable pressure mounted within her. A few weeks back, Perfect Angle Cinema’s intense campaigning paid off when the Academy announced the nominees for each category, securing nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor.
As an action star, he guaranteed studios billions, but no one seemed to take him seriously beyond guilty pleasure blockbusters. After three previous nominations and three losses, she understood earning prestige recognition for his acting performance would break the industry mold he’d been fitted into.
Regardless if he won or lost, she wanted that night to be perfect for him which meant she had to be perfect too. She collaborated tirelessly with Nikita Spire to fashion a jaw-dropping masterpiece. On the film industry’s biggest night, your armor either made you a red carpet darling or a disappointment. There was no in-between.
The world already expected her to fail, so the scheduled ambush she had in mind required a lot of her. Snags derailed her sanity. Earlier today, she visited the House of Spire’s sewing workshop, she was informed the unfinished gown suffered a major setback, but she saw it, she nearly had a mental breakdown.
Lanya grabbed her shoulders and shook her out of it. Nikita profusely assured all matters would be resolved well before the Academy Awards. To settle her nerves, Lanya encouraged a shopping trip at her favorite plus-size boutique to buy a perfect dress for tonight’s Galentine’s Day outing. She only bought the mini dress to feel better, but she hadn’t anticipated it to put Nick in his feelings as made evident by his text messages.
Tallulah shook her head at Sonya’s question, the alcohol loosening her slurred tongue. “It’s…not him. I thought the world was against me, but I’m starting to think it’s the whole fucking universe.”
Stinging tears blurred her sight and she crooked a finger to brushed them away at her eyes’ waterlines, not wanting to ruin her makeup. It wasn’t a superficial action. Nick had a knack for detecting tiny details, especially it came to her. Even after nine years apart, he was a master at understanding her right down to her atoms and DNA coils.
“I need to make it out of February in one place, but if something else goes wrong, I’m going to lose my mind,” she confessed to her oldest friends, sniffling. “I didn’t want to think tonight.”
“According to ‘em text messages, Nick wants you to lose your mind when ya’ll get home,” Dominga teased and stuck her tongue out, winking naughtily.
They all shared a good laugh.
Tallulah willingly footed their entire tab and they evacuated the club. She stumbled and staggered in her heels, inspiring Sonya and Alexandra to sandwich her and drape her arms across their shoulders to assist as if she were a wounded soldier on a battlefield.
Dominga dialed one of her suitors’ numbers. As she veered from the group, Valerie called, “Dom, where the fuck are you going? We rode together!”
“I found a ride. Don’t worry about me,” Dominga ensured, firing a wink over her shoulder.
“A dick doesn’t count!” Valerie shouted back.
Domingo swirled on her six-inch stilettos and shimmied her shoulders, crooning, “Says who, baby?”
A hoodied man slyly emerged from a row of cars, blindsiding the flock of ladies. A panicked Valerie whipped out her pepper spray keychain at the ready to do some damage to protect the group. However, it required only a split second for the women to determine the stranger’s identity.
Nick didn’t flinch at the threat of being pepper-sprayed.
Lowering her defenses, Val gasped, “Holy fuck, Nicky!”
“Good to see you too, Val,” he said, smirking. “Impeccable reflexes, by the way.”
“She’s all yours, Nicky,” Sonya grunted as she and Alexandra safely passed the intoxicated birthday girl off to him. Tallulah’s forehead bumped against his hard-muscular chest hiding underneath his hoodie. She wobbled on her heels and he captured her hips as her knees buckled to prevent her fall.
As a precaution, he hauled her over his shoulder. Tallulah slumped defeatedly over the hard plane of Nick’s shoulder.
“Are you feeling, Ray?” Alexandra quizzed as the old gang accompanied his journey to a black Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
“Upside down,” she admitted sloppily, earning a brief rumbly laugh and giggles.
Sonya opened the front passenger’s seat and Nick carefully deposited her onto the luxuriant leather seating. He sealed her inside and she careened, plopping her cheek against the coldish tinted window. With her ear pressed against the glass, she unwittingly eavesdropped on the muffled conversation between Nick and the gals.
“Go easy on her, Nicky,” Sonya petitioned, crossing her arms. “She’s…fragile right now. The world’s coming at her too hard.”
Nick rubbed his nape, sighing, “I’m tryin’ to soften the blows, Yaya.”
A dull ringing clogged Tallulah’s ears, thwarting her ability to listen and focus. She dozed off, ignorant to how much time slipped by. The distinct whine of an opening car door lured her awake. Her attention lazily drifted to Nick as he claimed the driver’s seat.
Their sights intersected as a key twist brought the engine to life.
“On a scale of one to ten, how drunk are you?” he questioned.
“Eleven,” she croaked.
Nick shook his head. “After eight drinks, I can see why.”
“Snitches,” she murmured.
He drove out the club’s parking lot, merging into the flow of traffic. “It’s no secret you’re a lightweight, Desiree. You know your limits. Tonight, you risked your health by exceeding them.”
She cooed, “I wanted to have fun.”
“No, you wanted to play a dangerous game of forget,” he lectured coolly. “Tossin’ back two or three drinks is fun, but when you guzzle down eight that means you want to forget your problems, your worries, and yourself. Been there, done that. Now, what’s wrong?”
“Everything’s fine,” she lied.
Nick tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “Stop actin’ with me. We aren’t on set. There aren’t any cameras around. This is real life, Desiree. This is our life.”
“Alright, I’ll admit it. I got out of control, but it was only this one time,” Tallulah argued, her speech’s flow clumsy and full of faults.
“One time,” Nick chuckled humorlessly, wagging his head. “One time becomes one more time and one more time becomes a lie you keep tellin’ yourself. It’s easier to help ourselves with alcohol, drugs, and meaningless fucking than ask for help. Then you turn into what I used to be. Then you turn into Veronica and Milo turns into the ten-year-old you.”
Her mother’s name daggered her spirit and a pained sob sputtered out of her. She hunched over as if he stabbed her gut. Guilt bled from her as abundant tears. Within a few hours, she and Nick were scheduled to board a flight to Mexico. Finn offered to spoil his godson rotten while the boy’s parents enjoyed a romantic birthday getaway.
Tallulah was grateful Milo slept peacefully elsewhere in Los Angeles unable to witness how much of a wreck she was. If he could, he would never unsee it. With a childhood like hers, she knew that best of all.
“Don’t talk about her,” she pleaded, shaking her head.
“Then let’s talk about you,” he said. “Tell me what’s goin’ on. I can’t help you if you won’t let me in.”
“You can’t save me from myself, Nick,” she snapped, a thick rawness impregnating her voice. “This shit isn’t easy for me. I’m trying to be more confident. I’m trying to be stronger. I’m trying to prove I’m worthy of—”
Anger blazed bright in his blue eyes as he interrupted her. “Worthy of what?”
“You know exactly what, Nick,” her tongue flung sharply. “The world thinks I’m not worthy of what we have.”
Nick growled, “I don’t give a fuck what the world thinks.”
“Well, I do! Dammit!” she roared.
She stamped her hands over her mouth, regret surging through her veins. The bitter truth didn’t agree with the alcohol in her belly. Nausea twisted her insides.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” she gagged.
As they drove through a Beverly Hills neighborhood, he veered off to a curb and she slung her car door open, hopping out. Grass crunched underneath her teetering high heels as she scuttled to decorative bushes on the street corner mere feet away. Her vomit watered the healthy leaves.
She panted heavily as the wave of illness waned. However, her relief only lasted a handful of moments before another urge to puke consumed her. She gave in, but this time, Nick held back her tresses from behind her. He coached her through a breathing exercise to steady her nerves. She leaned against him, her pillar of support, as he unhurriedly escorted her back to the vehicle. Exhaustion robbed her ability to discern time. In between sluggish blinks and weary breaths, she no longer recuperated as a car passenger but as a woman being carried through the moonlit glass manor in a man’s arms.
He rested her on the bed as if she were made of delicate porcelain then cared for her in ways she didn’t deserve. A capful of mouthwash to cleanse her palate. A stout wastebasket to spit in. He relieved her sore feet of uncomfortable four-inch pumps. She lolled onto her side and snuggled her face against a pillow, relishing the coolness against her heated flesh.
“Can you plug up my phone?” she murmured tiredly.
Nick slipped her clutch-purse’s strap off her bare shoulder and unclasped it. He withdrew napkins and shuffled through the pile to satisfy his curiosity; his tone poised as he addressed her.
“Desiree, what the fuck is these?”
“Those mean nothing to me,” she yawned, halfway to surrendering to slumber.
“I shouldn’t have let you wear that dress,” he grumbled.
He disposed off the napkins and plugged up her phone on her bedside’s nightstand. He claimed his spot behind her and nuzzled his head against her shoulder’s crook, lounging an arm over her hip.
“Are you asleep?”
“Mostly,” she whispered.
“I know you’ll forget everything about tonight, but I’ll remember for the both of us. You say I cannot save you from yourself as if it’s absurd, but it’s not, Desiree. You and Milo saved me from myself,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, I intend to return the favor.”
His weighty words meant little to her befuddled brain.
A drowsed Tallulah dabbed his bearded cheek as if she understood him crystal clear. “Mm-hm, that’s nice.”
“Rest up, Desiree. You’re gonna get fucked in eight different ways for those eight napkins you brought back home,” he promised in her ear hungrily.
“Can’t wait,” she mumbled obliviously before a deep sleep dragged her under.