Authors: Celia Aaron,Sloane Howell
“What? We can’t even joke now? I thought we were in the nest? In the safe place? Are we not?”
I flipped him the bird over my shoulder, but snickered a little.
“If you can’t joke about giant french ticklers and gas powered dildos in a fucking locker room then the terrorists win, E. Our freedoms are eroding. I’ll pick up lube and condoms instead. Bring your hand. It’s the only action you’re getting.”
I spun around and looked down at him. “Yeah, we’ll see about that, short stack.”
He ignored my insult and made a jerk off motion with his hand. “Maybe your hand will still be numb from that love tap earlier. You can pretend it’s a stranger pulling on you when you wick your fuckin’ weed later. Swollen knuckles ought to make it nice and tight.”
I looked past him. Three female reporters stood behind him, mouths agape. My body went stiff, my face serious.
“E? E?” Braden waved his hand in front of my face.
I stared, not sure what to do or say. Sometimes we got carried away.
Braden put his hands on his hips. “There are women behind me, aren’t there?”
I slowly nodded.
“They do not appear amused at our tomfoolery, do they?”
I shook my head.
“Maybe, umm. If I don’t turn around and
them, it’s just like it never happened?” He shrugged.
I shook my head slowly again.
He dropped his gaze to the floor. “Well. Fuck.”
at the head of the conference table, surveying her team of editors and designers with narrowed eyes. “This issue of
has to be the biggest yet. More pop. More allure. More vivality.” She rapped her wizened knuckles on the glass table.
“Is ‘vivality’ a word?” Nikki whispered.
I pinched her leg and shook my head a tiny bit.
“Ms. Kent. How is the story on Justin coming along?”
I snapped my gaze up to Tessa, her angry red bob and bright purple glasses almost too much for my eyes to take in the morning sun. “Wonderful, actually. I got back from L.A. last weekend where we did the shoot at his new home, including photos with his pet jaguar.”
“And the article?” She tilted her head to the side. For some reason, whenever she did that, I pictured her as a praying mantis that was about to snap my head clean off.
“Almost finished. Full of new information on his music, his exes, and his current high-exposure girlfriend.”
“Yes, yes, Ms. Kent.” Tessa took off her glasses and waved them around in a dramatic fashion, the puffy sleeves of her dress wobbling along with her movements. “But does it
Nikki shook next to me, her silent laughter dangerously contagious.
“Yes, Tessa. It definitely has just the right sparkle.” I smiled and kicked the shit out of Nikki.
“Perfect. Moving on. Let’s discuss the cover. New wave lumberjack with a splash of butcher aprons and spring floral.” Tessa continued checking off the list for our next issue as I did my best not to laugh.
was supposed to be a stepping stone to my dream publication—
Style and Substance
. Problem was, openings were few and far between at the latter, so I’d been biding my time for two years, hoping for an editor spot to open up. If I could only get my foot in the door, I was certain I could work my way to the top.
The meeting continued as various editors gave reports on how the next issue was shaping up. Even Nikki got a chance to say something.
“Yes, Tessa. The crossword is all taken care of.” Nikki smiled next to me and adjusted the bright blue scarf around her neck.
“Well, I think that covers everything. Go, get to work.” Tessa clapped her hands twice in dramatic fashion, and we all filed out of the bright conference room and into our dull cubicles or windowless offices.
Nikki perched on the edge of my desk as I clicked through the few emails that had come through during the meeting.
“Any news from
Style and Substance
?” she whispered.
“Close the door.” Technically, as one of the editors, I was Nikki’s superior at work, but we never adhered to any sort of actual structure. Our friendship came first.
She eased the door closed and reclaimed her perch, her blonde hair falling into her face as she leaned over. “So, dish.”
“Nothing set in stone, but I heard an executive editor is leaving.”
“Shut the front door!” She squealed quietly and gripped my shoulder.
“Shh!” I couldn’t help but smile at her antics. “There’s no guarantee I’ll get the spot, even if it opens up.”
“You’re a shoe-in.” She opened her eyes wider. “Take me with you.”
“You’re an idiot. So, no.”
She smacked my arm.
“Okay, fine.” I smiled. “Maybe.”
“Better.” She leaned back and grinned. “So, I have a spur of the moment idea.”
I crossed my arms over my prim black cardigan. “Oh, yeah? Let’s hear it.”
“Let’s go for dinner tonight and celebrate your maybe, possibly, could-be new job.” She nodded as she talked, as if that would somehow make me agree.
“I think that might jinx it and there’s nothing set in ston—”
“Wait. Before you say no, there’s a bonus.” She twirled a lock of hair around her index finger. I knew the move. She’d been doing it since we were in college—her oldest and most obvious tell.
“What?” I leaned back, wary of the ‘bonus’.
“You’ll get to meet Braden. He’s coming, too.”
I arched a brow. “I thought you said this was spur of the moment?”
She made a pfft noise and rolled her eyes. “Now you’re splitting hairs. Just say you’ll come, okay?”
“Is there anything else?”
“You don’t trust me?” She pouted.
“Last time you took me on a surprise evening, I wound up with a ten-inch anaconda in my face courtesy of Strictly Dickly Dance Troupe. Remember that?”
She giggled. “That was a great night. For me, anyway. And you loved it, you little slut. Don’t lie. Anyway, that’s in the past. I’m talking the future. Come out tonight.”
“I don’t know…”
“Please? I really want you to meet him.” She dropped her gaze to the floor. “Especially since my parents aren’t around anymore. I need to get input on guys and everything.”
“Are you really going to play that card?” I laughed. “Your parents moved to Florida. They aren’t exactly dead.”
She glanced up, a sneaky smile on her face. “I know, but my point still stands.”
I threw up my hands. “Fine. Fine. I’ll do anything to get you out of my office at this point.”
“Yay!” She hugged me. The awkward angle squished my face into her breasts. At least they were of a manageable size, unlike my own.
“Off. Get off.” I mumbled.
She released me and went to my door. “This is going to be great. You will love it. I promise.”
“Sure, whatever. Go get me some coffee or something,
“Bitch.” She scowled, blew me a kiss, and pranced off to her desk.
“No.” Nikki shook her head and pointed toward my bedroom. “Go. Go now. I will not be seen in public with you dressed like that.”
I looked down and surveyed my outfit—jeans, t-shirt, cardigan, and sneakers. “What’s wrong with it?”
“I told you we are going to a nice dinner with my new boyfriend, did I not?” Her tone rose and I winced as I looked up at her.
“Yes, but I didn’t expect to stay the whole time or anything.”
She ignored me, continuing, “I said I was dressing up and that you were supposed to dress up. Remember that? Remember when you dropped me off at my apartment and I said ‘dress up’? You said you would. You didn’t. Now I look hot and you look dowdy.” She frowned.
I studied her outfit—slinky black dress, patent pumps with a red sole, and her blonde locks pulled half up and curled so they flowed down her back.
She has a point.
“Turn around. See, this is why I came over early. I knew you would pull some shit like this. Go on back to your room. You have great style and a closet full of fabulous clothes. The ragamuffin look doesn’t suit you.” She gripped my shoulders and turned me around, shoving me through the hallway of my apartment. “I’ll find something for you to wear and for Christ’s sake, put on some more makeup. You look sick or something.”
“I do not!” My protest fell on deaf ears as she hurried past me to my closet.
“Crap.” She pushed my hangers aside one by one. “Crap, nice but no, maybe, no, too long, no, maybe, too professional, crap, too casual, ugly, maybe, no.” She paused her tirade as I sank onto the bed and started untying my shoes.
“When’s the last time you shaved?” she asked, her voice muffled by my closet.
“My legs?” I tossed my shoes and stood to strip off my jeans.
“No, your pussy.” She turned and put her hands on her hips, glaring at me. “Of
your legs, you idiot.”
“This morning.” I’d worn a skirt outfit to work earlier in the day and a shave had been long overdue. Though, it wasn’t as if anyone would be enjoying the smoothness other than me.
“Perfect. This is it then.” She traipsed from my closet with a deep crimson dress—plunging neckline and short hem included. I hadn’t worn it in years.
“No way.” I shook my head. “I probably don’t even fit into that anymore.”
She stared at my chest. “If I had your figure, I’d wear this dress every damn day and to bed every night. Get up, you’re putting it on.”
I laughed. I was curvy with ass, tits, and a decent waist, but I was nowhere near the perfect, slim figure of Nikki. She would have been a model if it weren’t for her height. At 5’5”, she didn’t make the cut, though she was a knockout by any standard. I was the taller, fuller, dark-haired half of the duo.
“I’m serious.” She shook the dress and then tossed it at me before cupping her breasts. “I’m still thinking about implants, you know.”
I sighed. “Yes, I know. Do what makes you happy, as I always say.”
She smiled, her eyes brightening. “I will later tonight. His name’s Braden. I’m glad you’ll finally meet him.”
“Whore.” I grinned and slid off my top and my bra. The dress was too strappy and slinky for undergarments.
“That’s my girl.” She waggled her eyebrows at me.
Slipping the fabric over my head, I shimmied it down until it was in place. It still fit—barely. The neckline was even lower than I remembered, cutting across my breasts and revealing the curves of my cleavage. The hem was mid-thigh, but I knew better than to bend over in this number.
“That looks fucking hot.” Nikki clapped and grabbed my hand before dragging me to the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes of makeup later, and I looked like the perfect tart. I wanted to wipe off half the eye makeup and the red lips, but Nikki beamed with pride at her creation so I let it slide. She added a few curls to my dark hair with an iron and then declared me perfect. I even let her pick out my shoes—black hooker heels, naturally. She was ecstatic, as if she were playing with a doll. I shook my head at her in my full length mirror as I realized I was getting soft at the ripe old age of twenty-four.
She stood next to me and surveyed her handiwork. Her in black, me in red, and both of us picture perfect.
“You are smoking. Not gonna lie. I might even go gay for you tonight, and you know how much I’m not into pussy. It’s just that good.” She smiled at my mirror image, her light brown eyes misting a bit. “I haven’t seen you this dressed up since…” She let her words fade and wrapped her arm around my waist.
“It’s okay.” We had a standing rule of never speaking of him.
She lay her head on my shoulder. “I didn’t think.”
I leaned on her. “It’s been two years. It doesn’t hurt as much, anymore.” Was that true? I didn’t think about him every day like I used to. Now he flitted around at the corners of my thoughts, only coming out in moments like these to steal what little happiness I should have felt. Why had I let him take so much from me?
“Maybe it’s time for second chances?” She lifted her head, an entreaty in her words.