This is the last chapter I will be posting for In Search of Mr. Anonymous. Thanks to those of you who’ve followed along and I hope you’ve enjoyed the sneak peek. It’s hard to believe my e-book is launching tomorrow with the paperback shortly to follow. I’m nervous and excited – more thoughts to come on that. In the meantime, enjoy the read! Note: this chapter contains adult language/content.
We step out onto the sidewalk and I rummage in my pockets for my gloves.
“Are you OK walking a few blocks?” he asks.
“Sure. I don’t mind the cold.”
“Are you sure? We can Uber it.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Winter’s my favorite season.”
“I love the snow. People around here think it’s a pain, but I think it’s beautiful. Especially right after it’s fallen and a perfect blanket covers everything, untouched by anyone.”
“I’ve never been so lucky to see that in the city.”
“It’s usually late at night or super early. When most people aren’t up. Or they just haven’t gone outside yet.”
“So are you a night owl or early riser?”
“Neither. Sometimes I work odd hours. Oh, and I love watching puffs of breath crystalize before your eyes. And the bite of cold air against my skin. It makes me feel alive.”
He nods like what I said makes perfect sense. Suddenly, I slip on a patch of ice. I try to catch my footing but he’s right in front of me to shield my fall. He grabs ahold of my shoulders to steady me with a grip that’s strong yet reassuring. I look up at him and when our eyes meet I feel this electric pull that makes my heart go into overdrive. His heated gaze falls to my lips and I attempt to still the butterflies that are swarming inside me. I know he wants to kiss me, but I’m not ready yet. I want the first time to be special―not while we’re standing on a very public sidewalk with strangers passing by. He leans in but I quickly pull away and mumble “thanks” instead.
“What about you?” I ask as though that moment didn’t just happen. “What’s your favorite?”
I can tell he’s disappointed but he plays it off. “Fall. I love the change of the season. The vibrant colors. The crunch of the leaves. And apples. I’m a big fan of apples. Never leave home without one.”
I assume he’s kidding. But then he pulls one out of his gym bag, shines it on his coat, and hands it to me. I eye it critically.
“It’s just an apple.”
“Haven’t you ever seen Snow White?” I ask.
“I can’t say that I have. But I know the story. And for the record, I typically don’t need to poison my dates to get them to sleep with me. Lucky for me they go along willingly.” He gives me a pointed look.
I shrug. “I was just kidding about the Snow White thing. But you should save it for later,” I say, handing the apple back to him. Instead of sliding it into his bag, he takes a bite.
“You know, apples are rich in symbolism,” he tells me. “Temptation and all that.”
“Knowledge is power. So maybe you’ll tell me your name?”
“Maybe. But isn’t a night between strangers more interesting?”
He stops me. “Regardless of what happens, this night is already one of the best I’ve had in a long time.”
I smile at him shyly. “Me too.” He takes another bite, this one slow and deliberate.
We walk the remaining distance in silence aside from an occasional crunch and footsteps of people passing by. I’m just too nervous to make small talk. In my wildest dreams I never could have imagined that I’d be having sex with Coffee Guy. Let alone getting turned on by watching him eat. I don’t know if it’s because of what the apple represents, or if I just like looking at his mouth and imagining all the things he’ll do with it later. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. He tosses the core in a trash bin and takes my hand.
“We’re here,” he says, stopping at a nondescript building. Instead of going through the front door he leads me through an alley to a side entrance. It has a small neon sign above the door that says CUSP. I follow him inside and it’s not what I was expecting. We’re in a swanky, dimly lit club. The walls are draped with rich, paneled fabrics with the exception of the bar area, which is painted black and adorned with framed records and photos of musicians. At the front is a stage, a lone music stand its only companion. The rows of red velvet banquettes create a sense of privacy and give the club an intimate feel. I soak in the details from the elaborate designs on the tin ceiling tiles to the ornamental carvings on the columns that flank the stage.
“What is this place?” I ask him.
“It’s a jazz club.”
“You like jazz?”
He nods. “Let’s get a drink and I’ll tell you about it.”
We slide into a banquette and I’m grateful to have somewhere to set my bag down. Coffee Guy asks me why it’s so heavy and I show him my day planner.
“You seriously carry this thing around?”
“Everywhere. I need easy access to my schedule.”
“You know, there’s an app for that.”
I laugh. “I know. But I’m a visual person and I like being able to see all my appointments on one page for the full month.”
“Are you a technophobe or something?”
“I’m not. I swear. It’s just a work thing. But remember we’re not talking about that.”
“OK. Let’s look at the drink menu instead.”
We peruse the list and he asks me if I’m hungry.
“Not terribly because I had some appetizers earlier. But unlike you I didn’t snack on the way over, so I’m not opposed to ordering something light.” He smiles at me and I feel a nervous energy deep in the pit of my stomach.
“You choose, Ms. Coffee. Appetizer or dessert?”
“Appetizer. How about the toasted mac ‘n cheese balls?”
“Interesting choice. I would’ve pegged you for a dessert girl.”
“Oh, I am. But I have no willpower. I’m a compulsive person and I find it hard to stop when something good is in front of me. So I avoid the temptation.”
“Interesting strategy. That seems to be a theme this evening.”
Before he can press me on it I’m saved by the arrival of the waitress. She asks what we want to drink and I notice how she fixates on Coffee Guy. She’s probably wondering what a guy like him is doing with someone like me. A martini seems fitting so I order one along with the appetizer. I can feel him watching me during this exchange and thankfully I don’t get flustered.
“What?” I ask him.
“I have one request.”
“That we vow to always tell the truth. No pretenses.”
“Naked truths. Got it.”
“I like the sound of that.”
I swat his arm. “You’re such a guy. Always thinking about sex.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. No man will tell you different or he’s lying.”
“Why is that?”
“Because sex is fucking amazing. I’m not sure I need to say more.”
“Oh? Tell me you’ve had amazing sex.”
The truth is I haven’t. I shrug, embarrassed to admit it.
“Seriously? Wow. You’re lucky you picked me then. That’s about to change tonight.” He looks at his watch. “It’s just after ten. We can spend the next few hours talking and getting you comfortable with this arrangement. And once the clock strikes midnight, it’s all about sealing the deal.”
I nod even though I’m not sure I’ve agreed to his proposal.
He looks me over, letting his eyes travel slowly from my face to the hem of my dress, lingering on my legs.
“Usually when you give someone the once over you try to be discreet.”
“If you haven’t noticed, discreet isn’t my style. I just wanted a taste of what’s to come. Pun intended.” I blush. “You know what, Ms. Coffee?”
“I think there’s a lot of passion inside you that’s just waiting to be unleashed. I can tell by the way you challenge me. I like it,” he leans in and whispers in my ear, sending shivers down my spine.
The waitress arrives with our drinks and I take a long swallow. I didn’t notice she set a glass of water next to me and I accidentally spill it―all over Coffee Guy’s lap.
“I’m so sorry.” I attempt to blot it with a napkin, mortified at my clumsiness.
“Now look who’s getting frisky,” he says with a smile.
I know he’s only teasing, which makes the heat that’s rising to my cheeks all the more embarrassing.
“Sorry,” I remove my hands from his lap.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s a good thing it’s a cold drink. I think I have spare clothes in my bag. I’ll be right back.” He heads to the men’s room to change and I take the few minutes to collect myself. He comes back wearing a comfy-looking black waffle shirt.
“I see you found something to wear,” I say.
“A shirt, yes. New pants, no. I do have a pair of gym shorts, but I didn’t think they would be appropriate attire.”
“Sorry,” I say again.
“Why do you keep apologizing?”
“I don’t know.” I think he’s getting the gist I’m unsure about this whole situation. And that he makes me nervous.
“Time for the first naked truth.”
I take a deep breath. “Lay it on me.”
“Why did you agree to do this bet with me?”
“Because of your ringtone.” He looks confused. “It’s ‘Viva la Vida,’ which means ‘live life.’ I took it as a sign.”
“I don’t believe in signs.”
“Well you’re lucky that I do,” I inform him.
“This is true. So are you one of those people who reads their horoscope every morning? Just how superstitious are we talking?”
“I don’t read my horoscope or avoid walking under ladders, and if I owned a cat it would be black. It’s my favorite color, by the way. But I do believe in asking the universe for guidance when I’m faced with a big decision. Or sometimes the signs are there, whether you’ve asked or not.”
“I’m still stuck on your reference to universe.”
I shrug. “I’m not a very religious person. But I love astronomy. Haven’t you ever heard the expression ‘It’s written in the stars?’”
“So, there’s your answer.”
He takes a swig of his beer and eyes me over his glass. “How did you get into astronomy?”
“It’s more of a hobby. When I was young I had this ritual of looking out the window before bed. It started because I was searching for the wishing star. One night when I couldn’t find it, my dad pointed out a cluster of stars that looked like a bird. I found it fascinating that the stars could make pictures, so I insisted my dad tell me stories about how they came to be. As I got older, my dad pointed out the constellations and told me that I was right, there were indeed pictures in the sky. For my ninth birthday he bought me a telescope.”
“Do you still have it?”
“It’s at my parents’ house in Virginia. It didn’t make the move with me. But whenever I go home to visit it’s there in my room, waiting for me. I love seeing the stars up close. They’re so luminous and beautiful. Don’t you think it’s amazing some stars formed billions of years ago and we can still see them today? It’s like we can see a window to the past.”
“I’ve never really thought about it. But I can tell you’ve got a passion for it.”
“I do. It’s something I’ve never talked about with anyone besides my dad. Sorry, I guess I got on a roll.” I’m embarrassed I got carried away. I usually don’t share this much.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s interesting.”
“So now you know about one of my passions. Your turn. You were going to tell me about your love of jazz.”
Just then the waitress arrives with our appetizer. I take a bite and it’s so delicious I let out a satisfied groan. Coffee Guy is watching me with an amused expression.
“It’s so good. You’ve gotta try it.”
“Oh, I will. And that noise you just made, next time it will be because of me.”
My eyes widen as a slow heat travels straight to my core. I attempt to speak but the words won’t come.
He pops a ball in his mouth and doesn’t seem phased by the fact that I’m rendered speechless.
“You’re cute when you blush,” he says.
Damn my ivory complexion. It gives me away every time.
“So, jazz,” he starts. I’m glad to be back on neutral territory. “Are you a fan?”
“I wouldn’t call myself a fan. I like jazz music but to be honest I don’t know much about it. How did you get into it?”
“My grandfather. I grew up listening to the greats like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong. I was immediately taken with it. There’s a richness to the music that’s hard to describe. I guess I would say it’s smooth and soulful. And it’s something you experience rather than just hear.”
“What do you mean?” I prop my chin on my hand, waiting for him to continue.
“I feel the notes here,” he says, placing his hand on my heart, “rather than just hearing them. Your heart’s beating pretty fast.”
I nod, unable to form words. I’m sure he knows he’s the reason.
“Anyway, I also love that jazz musicians strive to have their own personal sound. Like they want to put their unique stamp on it. I know this because my grandfather took me to a jazz club one night. I wasn’t technically allowed to be there, but he was a regular and no one said anything. Watching them live, it was awe-inspiring. It’s like you could feel their emotion from the notes they played. The instruments became their voices, and I felt like they were talking to me. I fell in love with jazz that night.”
I realize that I’m finally catching a glimpse of the real man behind the façade. His guard is down and I like what I see behind the cocky exterior.
“That’s why I took you here. I know it’s a big step for you, agreeing to sleep with me. Most women would be lining up, by the way.”
I lightly elbow him in the ribs. “You were doing so well.”
“In all seriousness, you’re not like other girls. And I like that about you. I also recognize that you’re willing to share something very intimate with me. So I wanted to do the same. I’ve never brought anyone here before. It’s my place of refuge when I’m stressed or need to find solitude. You’re the first person I’m sharing it with.”
Wow. I’m touched by his words. On impulse I lean in and give him a lingering kiss on the cheek. He’s surprised by the gesture, and frankly so am I. He touches his face where my lips were moments ago and for once seems at a loss for words.
“Thank you,” I say as I place my hand on his. “It means a lot you’re willing to share that part of yourself with me.”
“You’re doing the same. It’s only fair that I try to even the stakes. But for the record, I wanted to share this experience with you. I decided to bring you here even before you agreed to the bet.”
“Oh.” I don’t know what else to say. But I do know his words seem to cement the promise that lies between us.
“Dance with me,” he says.
“There’s no music.”
“We don’t need music.”
“Umm, in my experience you do. But I’m not a big fan of dancing.”
“Maybe you just haven’t had the right partner.”
“Maybe. So tell me about this club.”
He moves my hand to his lap and laces his fingers through mine.
“It’s different than most traditional Chicago jazz clubs. Cusp focuses on finding up-and-coming talent. There’s not a set schedule aside from the eleven thirty show. I discovered Buddy Vaughn on open mic night and he’s become a club favorite.”
“Do you come often?”
“It’s kind of sporadic. But lately I’ve been going to the open mic nights. I like the draw of discovering new sounds. And these guys are hungry to make a name for themselves, so they work that much harder. And the collaboration among a group who’s never played together before is pretty awesome to witness. The thing about jazz is that it’s spontaneously composed. The same song will likely never be performed the same way. Often it’s more about the way a song is played than what song is played. The musician takes his cues from the group and performs based on the feeling they have at the time.”
“Kind of like improv.”
“Exactly. They do have a pre-determined tune though so it’s part planned and part spontaneous. They create their interpretation in the moment. And now you’ll get to see for yourself.”
The lights dim and Buddy Vaughn takes the stage. I close my eyes and focus on the sound of his saxophone, its rhythm slow and soothing. As the notes wash over me, I feel a sense of calm that usually only comes after an hour of yoga. The song ends and he breaks out in a jazzier tune. And in my own moment of spontaneity, I take Coffee Guy’s hand and lead him onto the dance floor.
That’s a wrap!
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