Chapter 01 I Kissed a Girlbysecretsxywriter©
"Please, Danny, don't!"
I tried not to cry. I tried really hard. But when the other line of the phone went dead, I couldn't hold back the tears anymore. My chest felt like it was in a vise, each static buzz in my ear turning the wench tighter.
I needed air.
The rain had let up to a drizzle by the time I pushed back through the door of the small convenient store and stepped out onto the wet sidewalk again. Had it only been ten minutes since I'd rushed in here, out of the downpour to run my errand? Ten minutes since I'd gone from being engaged to single again?
I managed a ragged but deep breath and started walking. I wasn't sure where I was going, but something inside of me said that walking would calm me down. I might be able to think more clearly, but I knew it wouldn't make everything right again.
Walking wouldn't solve the problem of my wedding dress waiting for my first fitting next week. Or the box of invitations sitting on my coffee table, still waiting to be opened. Or the non-refundable down payment on the villa we had rented in Tuscany for our honeymoon.
The tears welled up once more, and I wasn't sure if they were wetting my cheeks or if it was the rain...which had decided to come down harder. I stumbled along, passing light posts that reflected dull yellow in the puddles beneath them. There was no one else in sight, just empty cars parked sporadically along the pothole-riddled street.
I laughed at that thought. Everyone else was home where they belonged. Not out running around in the rain to buy cigarettes, only to get dumped by a phone call.
I have no idea how long I had wandered aimlessly, but by the time I saw the blue neon sign, the rain had soaked through my auburn tresses, chilling my scalp. The light was bright against the otherwise dark sky. It was also the only one lit on either side of the street at this time of night.
I felt it beckoning me, drawing me closer with its warm glow, as if it could ease some of the pain threatening to break my heart in two. Or maybe it was what the sign represented, and what was inside that would kill the feeling of a knife twisting in my side.
I read the words "Maggie's Lounge" surrounding a miniature martini glass, and then opened the door to view a dimly lit hall. Inside, I shook the rain off my jacket and wrung out my hair to look somewhat presentable. I glanced at my surroundings.
There were two doors, one straight ahead and one to the left. I tried the knob in front of me, but it was locked. Door number two opened to a set of descending stairs. The blue rope lights along the ceiling and floor led to another closed door. The muffled sounds of a heavy base told me I'd found the lounge.
"Okay, Alice, time to go down the rabbit hole."
I took another deep breath, and then started down, gripping the railing and watching where I put my feet.
Before I reached the bottom step, the door opened. The beat of the music changed to something slower but just as heavy, and I could hear a cacophony of voices. There were colorful, flashing lights in the distance, but the forefront of the room was lit with an array of silver pendant lights that the former lights bounced off of. Underneath the pendant lights were tall tables and chairs, most of which were occupied.
A woman in a black pantsuit stood waiting at the door. I realized that I had frozen on the second from the last stair. Apparently she was waiting for me. I forced a smile and finished my descent.
"Welcome to Maggie's Lounge." The woman's voice was deep, which matched the black of her hair and the green of her eyes. The wall sconce behind her produced a halo of light around her head as she turned to let me pass. She ran her eyes down my body, a smile flitting across her lips. And then she was enveloped in shadows again as she closed the door. "It must still be raining."
"Yeah." I cringed, knowing my hair looked like a mop, and my jeans and sweater were damp as well. My raincoat hadn't been much help against the weather. Then again, I hadn't thought to secure my coat when I'd rushed out of the convenient store. I had even forgotten to buy my cigarettes. "I'm sorry, I must be dripping water everywhere."
"Nonsense. Come on in and dry off."
"Thank you." I looked around, wondering what to do next. When she took my arm and directed me to the bar, I just followed.
"What's your poison?"
I stared at her a second, entranced by the full red lips smiling back at me. I shook my head. "I'm sorry. What?"
"What would you like to drink?"
"Oh, um...Southern Comfort and Coke? Thank you." I stared at the bartender while the woman leaned across the bar to talk to him.
He was a tall man with broad shoulders and well-developed biceps, emphasized by the black T-shirt stretched across his upper body. Definitely in the handsome category, although a little rough-looking for my tastes. I almost smacked myself. What was wrong with me, sizing up men already?
I switched the track on my train of thought and wondered if he could also be the bouncer. Especially when I looked around and realized all of the patrons were women. Whether they were standing at the bar, sitting at the tables, or dancing to the trance-inducing music, every single person in viewing distance was female.
I restrained myself from laughing out loud when reality hit me. I definitely had left my brain somewhere back on 72nd Street. I touched my host on the arm and asked her where the restroom was when she turned back to me.
"Over there, second door on your right."
My gaze followed her pointing finger, and I could see a neon "Exit" sign on the other side of the bar. "Thank you, I'll be right back."
I kept my head down even though I could feel the stares as I passed through the crowd. They didn't seem offensive, but still, I refused to look at the women directly. I was thankful to find the other stalls empty and locked myself in the fourth and final one.
I sat fully clothed on the toilet seat. And cried.
My chest hurt. I knew if I didn't stop crying soon, I would get a migraine, but I didn't care. Every memory I had shared with Danny flashed behind my closed eyes like a silent movie. Some of them made me cry harder. A couple made me pound my fist against the metal wall in frustration. I just didn't understand why he had done it.
It was several minutes before I heard the door squeak open, the noise from the bar increasing exponentially before being cut off again. The staccato sound of heels walking on the tiled floor made me hold my breath. They passed the first three stalls and stopped in front of mine.
For almost a minute, all I could hear was the beating of my own heart and the muffled music seeping under the closed bathroom door. When I could hold my breath no longer, I let it out in a ragged wheeze. And hiccupped.
"Kat?" a female voice called from the other side of my stall. "Are you okay?"
My heart stopped. Someone had recognized me! I tried to wipe up my tears with toilet paper, stood, flushed, and then pasted a smile on my face before turning the lock.
"Yes, I'm fine," I said as I opened the door, only to stop with it half open when I saw who was standing there.
Time had only made Jenna Swallow more becoming. She had not been popular in high school, even though she looked like a model. Maybe it was because everyone had assumed she slept around because of her name, therefore teasing her endlessly. I covered my laugh with another hiccup as I now knew the answer to the single, whispered question all those years ago: Did Jenna swallow?
I blinked, but she was still standing there, framed in blue metal with a mirror behind her, reflecting the two of us. Standing between me and freedom. Standing with a smirk on her face.
I blinked again.
"Kat, are you sure you're okay?" She took a step toward me.
I stepped back, ran into the toilet, and sat down hard on the seat. Bit my tongue. Started crying again. I was so upset that I couldn't control my emotions that I bawled even harder.
Jenna rushed out of the stall, only to return with several paper towels. She squatted before me, blotting my puffy cheeks. "Hey, it's okay. I didn't mean to startle you."
I hiccupped and then took a deep breath when she told me to. I tried to force a smile and failed.
More surprising than seeing her on the other side of the stall door was the sense of comfort I felt when she laid a hand against my cheek and rubbed away fresh tears with her thumb. Warmth shivered down all the way to my toes when I lifted my gaze to hers.
"Hello, Kat." Her smile reached all the way up to her violet eyes. I'd always envied her for those. Mine were just a dull brown.
"Hey, Jenna." The muscles in my mouth suddenly worked, and I felt myself smiling. I tried to think of something else to say, but all that came out was, "Thanks."
"What brings you to Maggie's?" Jenna stood and took my hand, helping me to my feet. "And on a night like this? Oh, by the way, congratulations. I saw the announcement in the paper last week."
I must have squeezed her hand too hard because she let out a sharp cry. I loosened my grip and just barely stopped myself from becoming a blubbering mess in the bathroom of a lesbian bar again. "Sorry. Thank you, but there isn't any engagement now. Not after tonight."
Her smile disappeared, and something in her eyes went dark. "No need to explain. Let's get you cleaned up and then you will come with me."
I followed her to the sinks where I saw her purse sitting against the mirror. She waited for warm water and then fixed up my makeup with her own kit. Satisfied that I looked presentable again, she pulled out a pick and slowly ran it through my hair.
It was surreal. I no longer felt like crying. For once in my life, I actually felt cared for. Looked after.
Danny had never made me feel that way. At least not without my asking him to do something. And that was kind of pathetic, asking your fiancé to just hold you, for instance. Shouldn't he just know you needed to be held?
"Okay, I think we're ready." The smile was back on Jenna's red lips. Her blonde hair was that dark shade—dishwater or dirty blonde I think they call it—that went well with the color of her eyes. And the blue-grey color of her fitted pantsuit.
I tried to remember what she had wanted to be when we were in high school—if she had accomplished her dreams—but her tug on my hand pulled me back to the here-and-now. I took a deep breath. She released her gentle hold on my hand only when we got to the door. Then her hand was on my back, ushering me through the doorway.
She led us down the hall and back into the main lounge area. I was oblivious to the music and other people around me. The woman who had greeted me at the door was back at her station. However, a tall brunette had taken her spot at the bar and turned toward us when we approached. She grinned at Jenna, but her smile disappeared as she glanced from me to Jenna and then back to me.
Without a word, she handed a glass to Jenna, said something to the bartender, picked up the two drinks he set in front of her, and then walked away. Jenna followed, and I—being the little lost puppy—went with her.
We stopped at an empty table in a corner furthest away from the music. Jenna sat next to me, and her friend sat next to her. Jenna picked up her glass and nodded toward me.
"Lauren, this is Kat. Kat, Lauren."
I managed a small smile. "Nice to meet you.
Lauren nodded and smiled back. "You, too."
I took the drink Jenna pushed my way. I wrapped both hands around the cool glass to quell the tremors that betrayed the remnants of my shock. It didn't work very well. Without looking up, I mumbled, "Anyone got a cigarette?"
Both women dug in their purses. Kat came up with a pack first. She pulled out a cigarette, handed it to me, and then held a lighter up while I puffed on it. She offered the pack to Lauren, then they both lit up.
I closed my eyes, inhaling fresh nicotine, exhaling bad memories.
No one spoke for a few minutes. The beat of the music thumped through the silence surrounding us, and I kept my eyes on the table. Eventually, my breathing slowed, the shudders ceasing so that I felt normal again.
"We went to school years ago," Jenna finally said, motioning toward me with the hand holding her cigarette. With her other hand, she stirred her yellow, fruity-smelling cocktail with the tiny straw that always accompanies mixed drinks and then raised the glass to her dark lips to take a long sip. "Kat was a bookworm, like me. But she was so much better at it than I ever was. Teacher's pet and all that."
I blinked. "I was not! I couldn't help it if they liked me!"
Jenna's smile got wider. "Everyone liked you."
"Everyone but Tim Jacobs." I let out an unladylike snort, remembering how I had tried to get his attention for four years to no avail. I took a long drag, blowing it out slowly.
Jenna rolled her eyes. "He was a jerk. Still is. You're better off without him."
"Oh, you keep in touch with him?" I finally took a sip of my own drink and closed my eyes for a moment, relishing the sweet taste, even as it bit the back of my throat.
"He's my boss."
I choked but managed to not spew too much alcohol all over the table.
"Here." Lauren handed me her napkin with a laugh.
I blotted my mouth and caught my breath. "He's your boss? Damn."
Jenna laughed herself. "Yep. Cruel world, isn't it?"
"Men! Who needs them?" I shook my head, and then realized what I had said...and who I was talking to. "Sorry, preaching to the choir, I guess."
"Preach it, sister," Lauren said, raising her glass. She clinked it against mine and then Jenna's before taking a big gulp.
Three hours later, I watched Jenna and Lauren pull away from the curb outside my brownstone. I couldn't remember the last time I'd had such a good time. In fact, I hadn't given Danny one thought while us girls had done our share of men-and-boss bashing, reminiscing mostly on high school.
Now, as I turned and walked up the stairs to unlock my door, I tried not to remember how Danny had kissed me right here after our first date. How he had proposed to me on the same spot four months ago. I hurried inside, shutting the door on my past.
I woke up the next morning still wearing last night's clothes and sporting a major migraine. I was trying to get the cap off the bottle of Aleve when I heard the buzzer for my townhouse. I thought I pressed the "talk" button, but no one answered when I asked who it was. A minute later, there was a knock on my door. Confused, I pulled it open, and blinked.
"Are you going to invite me in, or are you just a tease?" Jenna gave me a quick once-over and then held up a paper bag. "Looks like I'm just in time."
I stepped back, watched her pass, and then closed the door. "Sorry, I must have pressed the wrong button."
"You didn't want to let me in?" She glanced at me over her shoulder with a smile as she unpacked the bag on my kitchen counter.
"Yes. No." I shook my head. "I mean I didn't know it was you."
"You are a tease. Interesting." She put her hand on her hip and stared at the cabinets for a moment. "Do you have a martini shaker?"
"Sorry. How about a blender?" I pointed to the garage in the corner, and then shuffled my feet to sit at the lunch counter on the other side of the island. I reached for the bowl where I usually kept a packet of cigarettes, and then cursed under my breath. Last night rushed back way too fast.
She lifted the door, pulled out the barely-used appliance, and proceeded to pour in the contents from the bottles she had brought with her. Then she helped herself to the freezer for some ice. "Did you get any sleep?"
"I remember you dropping me off last night and then waking up this morning on my bed. So I must have slept." I eyed the concoction in my blender. Based on the ingredients she had used, it was probably a Bloody Mary, but I had never drank one—or wanted to. It didn't look like I had a choice today.
"Why don't you go take a shower?"
I cringed. "Do I smell that bad?"
"No, but a hot shower does help with a hangover. Now, shoo." She wiggled her fingers at me and I obeyed.
It wasn't until I was stripping down in the bathroom that I wondered why Jenna had shown up on my doorstep this morning. But I expressed silent thanks when I stepped under the hot streams of water and felt my muscles sigh in relief.
When I emerged fifteen minutes later, wrapped in a pair of sweatpants and a big, comfy sweater, Jenna was on her cell phone. She caught my eye and gestured to the glass of red stuff on the kitchen counter. I gave the contents a good sniff and then took a big gulp. No sense drawing it out.
Her eyebrows went up, but she didn't say anything to me. It sounded like it was a business call, but I couldn't be sure as the person on the other end did most of the talking. I had finished the drink by the time she ended her call.
She snapped her flip-phone closed and smiled at me. "Feel any better?"
"A little." I followed her into my living room, as if this were her house and I was visiting. I sat first on the couch, and she sat opposite me, kicking her shoes off and pulling a leg up under her. "Not a big fan of Bloody Marys, though."
"Trust me, it's better than a migraine. Give me your feet."
Again, I didn't think twice about it. Her hands were warm against my right foot, massaging and caressing it. I moaned softly and settled further into the couch.
"How are you dealing with the guy thing?"
I was feeling sleepy again. It took me a moment to realize what she meant. "Oh, Danny. I'm okay, I guess. Haven't heard from him."
"You're probably still in shock. After the fourth drink last night, I knew you were feeling no pain." She switched to my left foot, and my right foot instantly felt jealous. "You were entitled, though."
"I haven't really thought about it much. Maybe I just don't want to."
"You'll have to, eventually. You can't help it. Something, someone, will remind you and then you'll just break down when you least suspect it."
"Speaking from experience, huh?" I suppressed a yawn with my hand and tried to keep my eyes open.
She kept her eyes diverted. "You could say that."
"Danny and I have gone together for over two years. It became...routine, I guess. Marriage just seemed like the next step. Not that I was opposed to it. In retrospect, maybe he was. At least to me."
Jenna's eyes were back on mine now. "Was he cheating on you?"
I thought for a minute and then shook my head. "But I think he wanted to. Why else break off the engagement and say he doesn't want to see me ever again?"
Her hands stilled on my foot, and she sat up straighter. "He said that?"
I nodded, glancing away. "If he wasn't ready to get married, he could have just said that. I would have understood."
"He's a jerk." I felt her lean toward me, her movement drawing my gaze back to hers. The same intensity I had seen and felt last night at the bar was there. That deep look of anger... and protection. "He doesn't deserve you."
"Thanks." I blushed and looked down at my lap.
"I mean it, Kat. You deserve so much more." Jenna lifted my chin so I was looking at her again.
I tried to smile but yawned instead. "Sorry. I'm not the greatest company right now."
"It's fine." She smiled and took my hand. The next thing I knew, I was following her to my bedroom.
I blinked and just stared at her.
"You need more rest." When I still didn't move, she gestured to the bed and said, "Lie down."
So I did.
I watched her pull the covers up over me and tuck them in around my shoulders. Her fingers rested on my temple for a moment, and then she tucked my hair behind my ear.
"I'll call on you later." She checked her watch, and then she closed the door behind her.