CHAPTER I - The Walk of Shame
As she strolled down the street in those impossibly high heels that would probably grant her a lifetime of back pains in her sixties, Alex swore to herself— that would be the last time she did that. The last time. As if the walk of shame wasn’t, well, shameful enough, she also felt like the alcohol from the previous night hadn’t left her system yet, judging by how cloudy things were in her head. Plus, she’d lost one of her contacts. She’d taken it as a sign from the Universe.
She had to stop seeing Richard. For real.
This was the last time, Alex closed her eyes and walked up the steps to her building, holding on to the railing so she didn’t trip and made her embarrassment even more clear, if it wasn’t already. And as she offered the doorman — who, thankfully, wasn’t the same one from last night, when she left in a hurry in this exact same outfit — a polite smile, Alexandra reflected on her recent actions.
What was she, a college girl? It was about time she accepted the fact that she was a grown, mature woman and acted like one for once. Running to his arms with a sexy lingerie whenever he was in the city for the night wasn’t the answer. Nor was checking what message he’d just sent her, because her spider-sense just knew it would be him. It was so like Richard, making a romantic, next-morning call, despite having already left when she woke up, alone, in that hotel room, then disappearing for weeks, even months, just to reappear later by calling her in the middle of the night with that husky voice. She was intimately familiar with that cycle as she’d been trying to get free of it for the past two years. Perhaps not hard enough, though.
Goddamnit Richard. He was like drugs to her addicted self. It had to stop. They had to stop. She couldn’t live like that.
Alex unlocked the door to her apartment only to find her grand-aunt Elida watering the plants in the balcony. It’s Friday, she reminded herself with a sigh. She kicked her heels away and poured herself a cup of steaming tea from the kettle in the black granite kitchen island.
“I won’t ask where you were, because I know I won’t like the answer,” Aunt Elida said without turning around to face her, and instead kept doing her thing, flowy white hair reaching just past her shoulders. She heard a very familiar giggle and poked her head through the french doors.
“Your Aunt let me in.” Callie shrugged as she drank her tea. “Since you absolutely forgot.”
Alex let the liquid burn her lips before she said anything.
“Sorry,” she said quietly, sitting in one of the chairs of her tiny round breakfast table in the balcony. She noticed flowers in the centerpiece vase were now bright and colorful, almost mocking her own dark mood.
“Luckily I had the keys. I came just in time to save your petunias. Look at it, poor thing. What have you been feeding your plants, vodka again?” She chuckled at her aunt and shook her head.
That woman would never forget that time she killed a cactus by the sheer will of her stupidity, by accidentally pouring not water, but vodka inside the pot for two weeks straight. She had also ignored the very reason she'd decided to have a cactus in the first place— they didn’t need to be watered daily. Or at all. And certainly not by vodka. Alex could tell that was exactly what Aunt Elida was thinking, as she sprayed real water in the colorful plants, ones Alex couldn’t name and hadn’t picked. If it was up to her, her apartment would be a simple combination between black and white, straight from a interior design magazine —elegant, but distant. Impersonal. Aunt Elida was the one pushing Alex to make things hers, and while some strange, broken part of her still cinged every time a new addition made her placelook more like home and less like a random apartment, she was hopeful that someday it wouldn’t.
“I haven’t had the time.”
The older woman looked at her for the first time that day, and something in her eyes told Alex she wasn’t buying that excuse, or the one she was going to give later when aunt Elida asked where on earth she had spent the night and she made up some bullshit lie before admitting her involvement with Rick again. But Elida wasn’t born yesterday and she knew her grand-niece like no one else, so she snorted before returning her attention to the petunias. They didn’t give her a headache.
“Are you coming tonight?” Callie asked, setting her teacup on the table.
“Coming where?” Alex blinked twice, as if waking up from a dream. She could imagine the rest of the Champagne she had drank the night before being washed down by the burning tea, and she hoped it took Richard’s taste with it. God, she needed a sterilizing shower.
“I can’t believe you,” Callie shook her head disapprovingly. “To the date, Alex.”
“Is it, like, today?” She had apparently deleted it from her memory archives.
“Oh my God, Alexandra. Have a shower, dress. I can’t have you there smelling like Richard Michaels’ aftershave.”
The clouds were ready to unleash their fury upon the world, dark and heavy. She thought that she’d rather be at home so she could enjoy the spectacle from her balcony, supposedly like Nero with his fiddle, but there she was— amongst the burning people of Rome.
“I think that’s him,” Callie dug her manicured nails into Alex’s arm. Her voice was two octaves higher than normal.
“Who?” Alex peeked inside the bar.
“The one in the green shirt, two o’clock” she was jumping with excitement. “He looks exactly like in the pictures.”
“Thankfully.” She suddenly had flashbacks to all of her bad dates that didn’t look like the pictures online. Too many to count.
Callie fumbled around her purse and took a lipstick, which she quickly applied using her reflexion. Alex had to admire that kind of skill, as she could barely do it with a mirror.
“Okay. I’ll go.” She gave a few steps towards the door, but stopped midway and spun in her heels. “What if he kidnaps me? Serial killers can be handsome. Charlie Manson was handsome. That’s how they lure their victims.”
Alex held her shoulders.
“That’s why I’m here. I’ll sit a few tables away. You send me the signal, I’ll save you. Is that good?”
She could practically hear Callie’s engines turning before she nodded vigorously and boldly walked inside the bar for once. Alex felt like in one of those investigation TV series she marathoned last week, the ones that made her feel like she could successfully hide a corpse in the woods, and waited a couple of minutes before walking in, so not to raise any suspicion.
Alex watched as Callie’s Tinder Date got up to kiss her cheek. He was average height, shorter than Callie’s 5’11, with blond curls that made him either adorable or childish, she wasn’t sure. He wasn’t her type, that was for sure. Alex usually went for the tall, dark and handsome type, even though lately, with her pathetic dating life, she hadn’t been going for anyone at all. Alex tried to keep an ear out for their conversation, but their table was too far away from where she stood.
She asked for a beer as she inspected the place. Callie had never met someone online and she had some dark fantasies in her mind about it — not the good kind. Alex had gone to enough blind internet dates to know they usually ended up in bad dates or bad sex, sometimes both, not in abduction. But she was spending the night at Aunt Elida’s, watching Indiana Jones, and Callie had promised to pay for whatever she ordered, so Alex had agreed to be there. Preventing the date itself from being bad wasn’t in the job description, so she could just lay low and drink for free.
And maybe have some fun, Alex thought when her eyes fixed in something across the room—someone. She hadn’t noticed him before, but there he was, only a few tables away from Callie’s, in an advantage point of view. She’d be lying if she said that’s what made her order a second beer and walk up to him. It could’ve been the fact that he was handsome, with those sharp lines and strong jaw, perfectly cut black hair, or the arms crossed over the table, the tight muscles exposed by the rolled up sleeves of the blue dress shirt, the top buttons undone. Could’ve been that, because it fit Alexandra Harrington’s most basic types.
Could’ve been that. But it wasn’t. It was the universe. Because aside from all that, all these basic physical traits, the kind you could find anywhere, the guy was in a sleek black manual wheelchair, and God help her, but Alexandra could by no means let the universe down.