Elizabeth Barone


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Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 21

Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 21, by Elizabeth BaroneJosalee pulled into her driveway, shaking her head at Niall’s car. Things weren’t going too well for the director. She hated to add to his problems, but if David was going to move back in, she needed to evict her new roommate. She sighed, averting her eyes from her reflection in the rearview mirror.

When she and Kimie were kids, her younger sister caught her waving goodnight to her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “So what?” Josalee asked, a hand on her hip.

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“You’re so weird, Jo,” Kimie said, rolling her eyes. “I’m telling Dad.”

Not much had changed in their adult years, Josalee decided, turning off her car. She bounced her keys at her side as she neared the front door, wondering whether she should give her sister a call or just let it go until the next family gathering. She turned her key in the lock, and paused at the sound of female laughter. Please don’t let him be watching porn, she prayed as she pushed open the door.

The laughter stopped and time froze as Josalee locked eyes with her best friend, who straddled the director on top of David’s couch, their clothing puddled around their feet. Josalee stared at them with parted lips.

“Care to join us?” Niall asked.

Josalee’s eyes remained on the pair a heartbeat longer, then her lips were moving, delivering some kind of excuse about needing milk. Her feet carried her out the door and back to her car, keys clutched in her hand hard enough that she would have little marks on her palm an hour later.


The refrigerators in the milk aisle chilled her despite the jacket she wore, but Josalee marched toward the lactose-free section and grabbed two half gallons of soy milk. Despite her early pregnancy and the baby’s uncertain future, she read more pre-natal articles every day. The latest debated the dangers of lactose products so early when so many children were lactose intolerant. A pregnancy without ice cream seemed dangerous, but not as scary as the idea of doing any further damage to her baby.

Cradling the cartons in her arms, Josalee headed toward the bakery section, from where a dozen mini, milk-free cupcakes called her name. As she neared the table with the treats, she spotted Victor, who saw her at the same time.

He gave her a smile, his eyes remaining heavy, and headed over. “Josalee,” he called, lilting the last syllable of her name. She loved the way her name sounded in his deep, husky voice.

She chewed on her lower lip as they neared each other. “Victor. Hi,” was all she could think of to say.

“How’re you feeling?” he asked, taking the cartons of soy milk from her. She gave him her best automatic “great,” and led him to the cupcake table. “Listen,” he said, “I know you and Ingrid are mad tight, and she probably told you to crucify me, but—”

“Ingrid’s having sex with my roommate,” she blurted, slapping a hand over her mouth. Victor’s voluptuous lips parted, and his eyes widened. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You deserve to know.” They stood in the middle of the bakery department in stunned silence.


As Ingrid dressed with her back to him, Niall buttoned the cuffs of his shirt and took a deep breath. “Why didn’t you tell me you were friends the first time I brought you here?” His best friend Brendan always said women would be the death of him. Niall wondered just how close he was.

Fully clothed again, she turned around, tears pooling in her eyes.

He held his arms out to her. “It’s all right,” he murmured as she rested her head on his shoulder, her pain soaking his shirt. He stroked her hair. “She’s not mad. She just looked flustered. It’s all right.”

“I always ruin everything,” Ingrid sobbed, her mascara streaking down her cheeks.

“Yeah, join the club,” he said, sighing and leading her back to the couch. He held her hands in his. “Truth is, I’m a dead end, love.” When she looked at him, hiccuping and waterlogged, he wiped a tear from her cheek with his thumb. “Producer pulled out. I have to fly back on my own tab, and try to get something else going soon. Otherwise, I’m done for.”

She raised her eyebrows. “We’re quite a pair.” She crossed her legs and fingered the buttons of her long denim shirt, smoothed the fabric of her black leggings.

“Yes, we are,” he agreed. “Which brings me to this.” He pulled out his wallet and flashed his credit card. “I have enough plastic to take you back to Hollywood with me.”


Executing a final trick on the pole, her last song of the night fading, Ingrid caught a glimpse of an upside down Victor. Righting herself as she spun toward the ground, she watched him approach the stage. I thought Prez kicked him out, she thought as his eyes met hers. He looked like someone’s lost puppy. Not mine, she resolved. Not anymore.

As he neared the stage, she saw Niall enter the club behind him. A knot formed in the pit of her stomach as her stilettos touched the ground and she began scooping up the bills on the stage. Men waved more dollars at her, but she barely noticed. She watched as her two men approached, her shoulders tensing as Victor sensed Niall next to him. The black man’s lips moved, Niall shot something back, and the two froze like lions ready to do battle for the pride. The bass slammed into her ears, blocking out what they said, but their furtive glances at her on stage told her all she needed to know. Before she could save the situation, Victor slugged Niall in the jaw, sending the director stumbling backward into a group of Atlanta Falcons fans. The men grabbed Niall and shoved him back toward Victor, who cocked back his arm again.

To Be Continued…

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Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 20

Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 20, by Elizabeth Barone

In just seven days, Josalee bought a domain name and started taking orders for handmade baby clothes. She called her new business BB Couture, which David said sounded totally lame, but the domain was available and the username on a popular site for handmade items was, too.

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“I just hate how people shorten ‘baby’ to ‘BB.’ It’s stupid,” he said, rifling through several bolts of fabric. The two stood in Jo-Ann Fabrics, the air scented by cinnamon and the clean, pure scent of spring. Outside, the sun shone brightly, the temperature finally warm enough for everyone to ditch their jackets.

Josalee stuck her tongue out at him and held up a white swatch patterned with tiny ladybugs. He shrugged. “It’s catchy, though, you have to admit,” she said, holding up a pastel yellow swatch with pink polka dots. He pointed to the polka dots. “I already have four orders. Four,” she said, beaming.

“At this rate, you’ll quit your job at the boutique in no time.” He held up a dinosaur print. She shook her head. “So does this mean all of our kid’s clothes are gonna be BB Couture?” he asked, letting the name roll off his tongue. He had to admit, it was catchy.

“We still need to talk about us,” she said. His head snapped up. He bit down on his lower lip. “Not here, of course, but soon.”

When they picked out enough fabric to re-carpet their living room, David wheeled it out in a cart and loaded it into the trunk while Josalee checked her email on her phone. “Another order!” she squealed from the passenger’s seat.

He slid in on the driver’s side and smiled back at her, then sighed, the corners of his mouth drooping. “Jo,” he said, “I can’t do what you want me to do.” Even as he said the words, he remembered the way her lips felt on his, and how his heart had leapt into his throat the first time they kissed. He shook a stray curl out of his eyes and said the words out loud the way he did every time he and Octavia talked about The One Night Stand: “I’m gay.”

She only looked at him, her dark eyes steady, her face calm. “I don’t believe you.” Then, as if to prove it, she leaned in and kissed him, pressing her lips to his, burying her hands in his hair. He moaned, kissing her back. His eyebrows shot up but his mouth continued to move against hers. She broke the kiss then, a smirk playing on her lips.

“That’s not fair,” he said, starting the car.

“And why not?” She buckled herself in and they left the Jo-Ann Fabrics parking lot, merging into traffic. She pointed to the Arby’s coming up on their right. David sighed and flicked on his signal light. “You know, there is such a thing as bisexual, David,” she said as they pulled up to the menu.

He wanted to scream at her. How dare she try to tell him his own sexuality? As he ordered her food, he realized if he was honest with himself, she might have a point. If you were honest with her, a little voice interrupted, she might not want to marry you. The food paid for and collected, he pulled back out into the flow of traffic.

“Well, at least tell me if you wanna move back in,” she said, sighing.

The sun shone above them, no glare on the windows, but David felt a headache coming on.

* * *

Octavia rubbed her temples, chugged down the rest of her coffee, and stood from the nurse’s station, her chair rolling backward. If she looked at a computer screen any longer, she decided, her eyes might actually cross. She glanced up and down the hallway. Even though she wasn’t technically supposed to do rounds yet, it beat trying to read the doctors’ handwriting on the paper charts and translating it to real English on the computer. She rolled her eyes. Since when did “nurse” mean “data entry clerk,”? she wondered.

The first patient she checked on was cranky old Mr. Ackermann. He had Alzheimer’s, and the Neurology attending was going to try a new procedure that only had a five-percent success rate on him. Even when he didn’t remember how old he was, Mr. Ackermann was still a rotten bastard in Octavia’s book. He called her “Blackie,” and whether he was referring to the color of her skin or a Blackie’s employee who happened to look like her, Octavia didn’t care. She longed to tell him the Nazis were long out of power and that maybe he should have been gassed, but she was already treading thin ice. She had already told the lead nurse off when they scheduled her for a double, claiming their per diem nurse had the flu. That was a crock, Octavia knew; the hospital had mandated all employees get flu shots, or they couldn’t even come back to work. Flu season was still a ways in the future, but the board seemed to have missed the memo.

Scowling at the clock, she slipped into Mr. Nazi’s room and was surprised to see Dr. Eric Bloch—the Neuro attending—signing off on vitals. Mr. Nazi lay fast asleep, snoring. Octavia rolled her eyes.

“Hey,” Dr. Bloch said. “Octavia, is it?” She nodded, preparing to pivot and continue on to Ms. Poventud’s room (whom Octavia was convinced didn’t actually have migraines and just wanted drugs), but the surgeon waved her over. “Can you take a look at this chart for me and tell me what you see?”

Octavia quirked an eyebrow but strode over to him anyway. She glanced down at the chart, squinting in an effort to read his Neanderthal handwriting. As she leaned closer, she sensed more than saw Dr. Bloch moving closer to her. Her skin tingled, her heart pounded, and a nauseating knot formed in her stomach.

To Be Continued…

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Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 19

Sandpaper Fidelity: Chapter 19, by Elizabeth BaroneOctavia stood in her kitchen, one hand planted on a curvy hip, the other holding a mug of coffee in midair, making her look a bit like an angry teapot from a children’s song. She glared at David, her wild curls framing her face—a corkscrew contrast to her freshly pressed Disney princess scrubs.

“You still haven’t called her?!” she exclaimed, looking like she might hurl the mug at David’s head. He bit down on his lip and clutched his own mug, gazing up at her from the table like a kid caught skipping class. “Girl’s probably tearin’ her hair out, or worse,” she thundered, clunking her mug down on the counter. She leaned on the table, leering at him.

He swallowed hard. “She asked me to marry her,” he said, whining a bit.

Octavia rolled her eyes. “Of course she did, Curls! Girl’s knocked up.”

“I’m gay,” he said.

“That don’t matter,” she said. She glanced at the time on her watch, shrugged, and plopped down into a chair, sighing. “Hell, maybe it does.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “You remember what it was like before you came out of the closet?” He nodded and started to protest, but she cut him off, slicing her hand through the air.

He squared his shoulders and stood from the table.

* * *

Everyone in the strip club stared at Mercedes, mouths gaping.

“Just kidding!” she sang, spreading her arms in the air. She began to laugh, her body shaking, the hair that cascaded down her back swishing back and forth. Ingrid started toward her, meaning to seize that hair in her hands and use it to drag her across the club, but the bouncer stepped in front of her at seemingly super human speed.

She snarled, screaming obscenities at the other woman, beating her fist’s on the bouncer’s chest. Prez’s voice boomed through the room. “Pipe the fuck down!” He stood on the stage, his oily skin glistening in the light, hands on his hips. A boil pulsed in the middle of his forehead, dark red and looking ready to pop. Ingrid stared at it.

“You,” Prez said, pointing at Victor. “Get the fuck out of my club.” Before Victor could object, two bouncers grabbed him by each arm and pulled him outside. Ingrid barely noticed. Prez pointed at her next. “You, too.”

“Me?!” She started toward Mercedes all over again, but the bouncer in front of her shoved her bag of things at her. Clamping his thick fingers around her arm, he led her toward the door.

Prez worked up a wad of phlegm and spat onto the floor. “One week’s suspension, no pay.” The door slammed in her face and she stood blanketed by the chilly night air, wearing only her stilettos and purse. She glanced around the nearly empty lot, looking for the familiar silhouette of Victor’s car, but he was already gone. Fighting back tears, she dug in her bag for her phone. Clutching the bag to her chest in a feeble effort to obstruct her body from passersby, she scrolled through her contacts. The only people she would normally call were Victor and Josalee. Victor was the last person she wanted to see, and she didn’t want to explain to Josalee why she was standing naked outside of the strip club.

Suddenly she remembered the tourist, and dug through her bag until she found his business card. With shaking hands, she dialed his number.

* * *

She cowered at the side of the building until Niall Darcy’s BMW rental pulled up, then made a beeline for the passenger’s side. He said nothing when she got in, only sped away into the darkness. As the tires rolled over pavement, Ingrid stared out the window, numbing herself to the last hour’s events, and anesthetizing herself for what was to come. It wasn’t until they pulled into the driveway that she realized where she was. In horror, she stared at the small house Josalee once shared with David.

Niall opened his door and, noticing her hesitation, walked around to her side of the car, offering his arm. “I have a roommate,” he explained, watching her stare at the other car in the driveway. “She’ll be in the basement, sewing baby clothes. And don’t worry,” he added as he led Ingrid to the front door. “There’s nothing between us. The room was cheap.”

Eyes still wide in disbelief, she followed Niall inside and up to David’s old room.

* * *

Josalee climbed the stairs from her basement slowly, her ears still ringing with the clatter of her old sewing machine. As she reached the first floor, she smiled to herself, ticking off what she’d accomplished. A floorboard creaked overhead, and she wondered just how long Niall planned on making David’s old room his home. From what little he said, things weren’t going so well with his project. He’d scouted the area, but so far his partner hadn’t gotten back to him. Josalee couldn’t remember any of the lingo he’d used, but the gist of it was that things were falling through, and he would probably be going back to LA.

The doorbell rang, startling her out of her musings. She padded to the front door, unlocked it—Niall was incredibly good at remembering how she liked things—and stood nearly face to face with David.

“C-come in,” she stammered, moving aside. He stepped in and pulled her into a hug, his body warm despite the chill in the spring air.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured into her hair. She wondered if she should pinch herself. Instead, she let her body melt into his embrace. He smelled lightly of coffee, coconut, and marijuana, but underneath all of that he smelled like him: the air at the beach on a warm, sunny day mixed with mesquite. After what felt like forever, he broke the embrace, closed the door behind them, and took her face in his hands. “Let’s do this. Let’s raise this baby.”

To Be Continued…

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