Elizabeth Barone

New Adult Romance & Suspense

Tag: sandpaper fidelity (page 1 of 5)

Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 14

blog_sfch14_08212015David woke up to the sound of a blender whirring. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes, rolled off the futon, and padded into the kitchen.

“Morning, Curls,” Octavia shouted, grinning and turning back to her smoothie. “Want one?”

“No way,” he said, making a face. Every morning for the past few days, Octavia made a smoothie with yogurt, banana, and orange juice. Aside from that, orange juice seemed to be all she drank. She didn’t even own a coffee maker, so he bought a cheap one. He flipped on the switch and the machine coughed to life.

Octavia shut off the blender and carried her concoction to the breakfast nook they’d found at a thrift store and refinished. Already the tiny apartment looked like a home. On the first day, he took her to Home Depot and helped her pick out new light fixtures. She wouldn’t have thought to change them, but the modern ones David chose really lit up the once dingy kitchen. “So what’s on the agenda today?”

He yawned and shook his head. Somehow she worked second and third shift without sleeping as soon as she got home. I’d be dead, he thought, not for the first time. “I have to work.”

“Uh-huh. And then?” She took a sip of her smoothie, her eyes slits of ecstasy. “Damn, this one came out good.”

He smiled. “And then I thought I’d go see Jo.”

Octavia put down her smoothie. “You ready for that?” He nodded. “You’re gonna have to tell her the truth, you know.” He nodded again. She propped her chin on one hand and stared at him across the table. “You gotta think about it from her perspective, Curls. She’s probably thinking this’s all her fault—especially since she hasn’t heard from you in a few days. So you’re just gonna waltz on in there like everything’s fine, and then drop this bomb on her?”

He rubbed the stubble on his cheeks. “You said I needed some R and R, though!” He winced, hating how he sounded like a bratty five-year-old.

Octavia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, Curls, but it’s been almost a week. You haven’t so much as texted the girl back.” She took a long draw from her smoothie and chewed on the straw. “Here’s what you need to do.”

* * *

Victor’s phone vibrated in the drawer of his desk. He put his current client—a retired golf player who practically collected properties—on hold and read the text message.

“Come on down and see me—private show,” Mercedes wrote.

His eyebrows rose and he started to type a response, then lowered the phone from his face, sighing. He missed every day of work that week, had no more sick time left, and his boss seemed to be catching on; the old man walked by Victor’s cubicle every five minutes. If he faked sick to go see the stripper, he might get fired. If he got fired, he’d have to explain to Ingrid why he’d lost his job. If she didn’t leave him, they would have to survive on her bartending income. She seemed to be making good money, he surmised. He shook his head at himself, then put his phone down.

It vibrated against the wood of the desk. He snatched it up before anyone heard and read the text. His eyes widened as Mercedes described, in detail, what she would do to him during her “private show.” He swiveled in his chair and checked the room, a maze of cubicles. His coworkers were all on the phones, selling real estate like hot dogs at a football game. He thought of the psychology degree on his wall, his failed med school entrance exam.

“I hate this job anyway,” he said out loud.

He imagined his mother’s voice so well he almost jumped out of his chair: “Victor Bethea,” she spat, “what in the hell do you think you’re doin’?! How you gon’ afford a wedding? I want my grandbabies!”

He thought of his failed med school exam again, this time picturing his mother’s disappointed face. Rolling his eyes, he replied to Mercedes: “Sorry. Gotta work.”

* * *

Ingrid signed the last check, stuffed it into an envelope, and added it to the pile. The rest of the world set up auto-payments with their debit and credit cards, but she felt there was something satisfying about writing out and signing the check herself. She opened her checkbook, balanced her account, and grinned. She even had money left to go shopping, if she wanted. She scooped up the pile of envelopes and took them out to the mailbox, smiling and humming. The sun felt warm on her face and, despite it being early September, the day felt like spring.

She went back inside, grabbed a jacket just in case, and her keys. When she got into her car, she headed toward the mall, then went to the grocery store.

* * *

When Victor’s key turned in the lock, Ingrid stood next to the kitchen table, her hands behind her back. Behind her, the table was set with her mother’s good china, large New York Strip steaks on each plate.

His eyebrows shot up when he saw her. “Babe… What’s this?”

She grinned. “I have no idea if it tastes good. I got the recipe online. I made fettucine alfredo for the side dish, too.” She lifted the lid of a pan. The scent of parmesan and romano cheese wafted toward Victor.

“Smells good, babe, but—”

She shook her head. “I know things haven’t been good between us. I’m really sorry. I guess I’ve just been stressed. Depressed.” Her face darkened, then brightened. “Whatever! Can we just put it all behind us, just sit down and enjoy this?” She strut up to him, then stood on her tiptoes, lips puckered.

His shoulders dropped and he bent down to kiss her. He promised himself he would delete Mercedes’s texts later.

To Be Continued…

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Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 13

Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 13, by Elizabeth BaroneOctavia took a sip of her orange smoothie and settled onto the bench. The wood creaked underneath her. Her hair spiraled toward the sky, as fluffy as her bottom. She adjusted the waistband of her leggings and amped up the volume on her headphones. In just a few minutes, she would be on the bus, and then she would be at her parents’ house, gathering some of her last few boxes. Sure, it would have been easier to rent a truck, but she needed every cent for her apartment.

Her apartment. She smiled at the possessive. “It’s all mine,” she said, then glanced around. A man leaned against the glass of the bus stop box, loose curls covering his face. “Always get caught talkin’ to myself.” She giggled.

The man—who looked about her age—didn’t smile back. The breeze brushed his brown hair out of his face, revealing tracks of drying tears.

“Damn,” Octavia said. “You look about as happy as a stripper on a dead night. My friend’s a stripper. Don’t know why, but she loves that damn job. Hey, you okay?” She scooted closer to where he stood and yanked one of her headphones out. His head hung and he stared at the ground. “Dude, you strung out on somethin’?”

He sighed. “This shit usually happens to heroin addicts,” he said.

One of her eyebrows shot up. “So you are strung out. I’ve never met a bona fide junkie.” She plucked the other headphone out of her ear.

He shook his head. “I can see why people get addicted, though.” He pushed off the glass and paced, his hands shoved into his pockets.

“You get in a fight with your girlfriend?” She leaned forward.

He laughed, a short outburst. “I’m gay.”

“Damn!” She snapped her fingers and shook her head. After a beat, she cocked her head at him. “If you ain’t got no girl causin’ you trouble, what’re you crying about, Curls?”

He swiped away fresh tears and sat down next to her. “I messed up. Way up.” He glanced down the road, eyes scanning for the bus.

“Tell Auntie Octavia all about it,” she said. She pulled a packet of Newports from her backpack and lit one, then held the others out to him.

He shook his head, then his eyes drifted back into the distance. “I’ve never been attracted to women. Ever. And then I met her.” Octavia raised another eyebrow. “We both ended up choosing Fashion my freshman year. We went to a technical high school,” he clarified. “I was good at sewing but not so much at designing. She was a great designer and could ruche like nobody’s business. After high school, we moved in together because her father’s a dick and my parents hate gay people.”

She hmphed. “I hear ya. My parents hate fat people. ‘Octavia, why don’t you diet?’ ‘Octavia, why don’t you go for a walk?'” She rolled her eyes and crossed her legs. “I’m happy just the way I am. Busted my ass to get outta that house.” She gently touched his shoulder. “Go on.”

The bus rolled to a stop in front of them, air rushing out of its brakes in a long whoosh. They rose in unison and boarded, sitting next to each other. “I slept around a lot in college,” he proceeded. “I ended up dropping out. Jo was always there for me every time I cried because some guy broke up with me because I slept with someone else. And then I started feeling shitty all of a sudden, all the time. Fever, chills, sweats, sores…”

Octavia’s eyes met his. “AIDS?”

“How did you know?” he asked, his eyes pooling.

She jabbed a finger at her chest. “Nurse.” She grinned. “That’s the only way I could afford my own place, ‘cept I’ll never be around to enjoy it.” She patted his knee. “I’m sorry, Curls.”

He rested his head against the window, staring out at the houses that blurred by. “That’s not even the worst part.” Outside, a man held a woman’s hand as she pushed a toddler in a stroller. He turned back to Octavia. “Jo and I had too much to drink one night back when I started feeling shitty. Today she told me she’s pregnant and HIV positive.”

They both stared out the window for a few minutes. “So what the fuck you doin’ here?” Octavia asked, turning back to him. He shook his head. “Well,” she said after a moment, “you wanna make a quick buck?”

* * *

An hour later, Octavia and David collapsed onto her futon. Boxes of all different sizes and colors lined her living room walls, but she would never have to go back to her parents’. “Thanks,” she said, handing him a twenty.

He waved it away. “All I did was ride the bus with you.”

“And carried my shit up all these stairs.” She laughed. “I knew it was too good to be true when the Craigslist ad said they had an elevator.” She heaved herself up. “Can I get you somethin’ to drink? I’ve got water, water, and more water. No ice.”

He smiled, and she saw exactly why his roommate had been stupid enough to sleep with a gay man. He looked like a model. Even if he was straight, she thought, I’m too fat. She shook her head at herself as she pranced into her kitchen and opened one of the cupboard doors. “Oh. Right.” She sighed. “Can I interest you in sipping from the tap?” she called to David.

He ambled into the kitchen, his cell phone clutched in one hand. “Jo’s called me nineteen times,” he said, his face pale. “What am I doing?”

“You’re staying here, is what you’re doing. You need some R and R.” She leaned against the counter. “And I need someone to help me unpack and make this place look half decent. Whaddya say?” She held out a hand.

David shook it.

To Be Continued…

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Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 12

Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 12, by Elizabeth Barone

Victor shoved his change into his front pocket and went straight back to the bar.

“The usual?” the bartender called over the music. She wore another tight corset.

He nodded and drummed his fingers on the counter. His eyes were dull in the dim lights, and dark circles underlined them. The bartender placed his rum and cola in front of him and he slid the money toward her.

“Hey,” Mercedes whispered in his ear. He turned and smiled. She wore only a thong and smelled like honey. His eyes settled on her breasts, her skin shiny with baby oil.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked, still staring at her chest. His jeans felt tight.

She shook her head. “I don’t drink on the job.” The bartender slid her a glass of soda and she sipped from the straw, leaving a dark red kiss on the tip. “I can think of other things you can buy, though,” Mercedes said.

Victor followed her to the Champagne Room. He sat down in the dark. A moment later, lights low like candlelight during a blackout came on. She stood in front of him, her long hair covering her breasts. “What would you like tonight?”

He sighed and put his drink down on the end table. “I just wanna talk,” he said, adjusting his jeans.

“Talk?” she repeated, glancing down at his fly. “That’s it?”

“For now.” He straightened in his chair and laced his hands behind his head. “But you can dance, if you’d like.” She stepped closer to him and began to sway her hips. “And maybe move your hair,” he added.

She smiled. “That’s more like the Vic I know.” She brushed her hair over her shoulders and swayed a little faster, like a hula girl. “So what do you want to talk about?”

“My girlfriend,” he said without blinking, his eyes locked on her body. “It’s like we’re strangers at home.”

“I ain’t no therapist,” she said, lowering the straps of her thong.

He held up a hand. “Just dance.” She shrugged and placed each of her hands on his knees, her breasts hanging inches from his face. “We’ve lived together for two years. I wanna ask her to marry me.”

“Then what the hell are you doing here?” Mercedes laughed. Her lips brushed against the stubble on his cheek, and a hot chill ran down his spine.

He swallowed hard and stared into her eyes. “I think you know why.” He tightened his intertwined fingers behind his head until his knuckles ached. “She won’t talk to me,” he continued. “She lost her job.”

“Maybe she’s depressed,” Mercedes said, and sat down on his lap. She ground her body against his and he inhaled sharply.

“We need to slow down,” he said. She laughed. His locked fingers tightened behind his head until his fingertips began to numb. “I can’t do this while I talk about her.”

She sighed and caressed his cheek. “Then why are you here?” She touched the zipper of his fly.

“I just want to talk,” he said, his voice getting louder. “I love her.”

Mercedes laughed, then stopped at the sound of small knuckles rapping on the wooden door. She stood and flitted to it, opening it a crack. “Yeah?”

* * * * *

Ingrid rolled her eyes. She would be back here, she thought. “I need the room. Time’s up.”

Mercedes smirked. “I have a client. A regular.”

Ingrid took a deep breath. “Most of my regulars are sitting around Stage Two, waiting for me to come back.” She pushed against the door, but Mercedes held it.

“I was here first,” Mercedes said, and slammed the door.

Ingrid stood in the hall, her blood pounding in her ears. She bit down on her lip and turned to her own client.

* * * * *

David’s key turned in the lock, and Josalee sat up straighter on the couch. He led Wes into the living room. “Jo,” he said, forcing a smile. “You’re home.” He took Wes’s hand and started toward the stairs.

“David,” she said, and stood. She pressed her lips together and wrapped her arms around herself, her eyes wide.

He stopped, one hand frozen on the banister, the other still loosely holding Wes’s hand. “Yeah?”

She glanced from David to Wes, then locked eyes with David. “I have to talk to you,” she said. She felt like her voice came from a blown out speaker.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be down in a while.” He grinned at Wes.

“I need to talk to you now.” She felt the tears surge down her cheeks, and she wiped them away.

David stared at her, and the color drained from his face. He turned to Wes and opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

Wes squeezed his hand, then kissed his cheek. “Call me,” he said, and slipped out of the apartment.

Josalee sat down again and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and tried to relax her shoulders, but they remained hunched around her neck, as though guarding her from the blows of an assailant.

David stood frozen on the stairs, his heart pounding. “Jo?” he squeaked.

“I need to tell you something,” she said. She opened her eyes and curled her hands into fists in her lap.

His lips parted, and his hand tightened on the banister. “Okay.”

She exhaled. “I’m pregnant.”

He sat down on the stairs as though someone shoved him. Sweat beaded on his upper lip and hairline.

“And,” she sobbed, “I’m so sorry.” The tears ran down her cheeks like rain during a hurricane. “I had blood work done. They told me I’m HIV positive.”

David’s mouth fell open. The room went grey and swayed around him. “No,” he whispered. He reached up for the banister, clenched his fingers around it, and pulled himself up. He took two shaky steps down the stairs. Without looking at Josalee, he turned the knob and left the apartment.

To Be Continued…

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