the bartender this week? She’s giving you the eyes.” Henry looked at the bartender and back at Ben.
With apologies to the Bard…
Something vibrated in Beatriz’s bed. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence, except that when vibrating happened in her bed, Beatriz was usually in the bed. She heard the buzzing from her bathroom and sighed.
“Don’t be John,” she said as she raced from the bathroom to the bed and started digging through her sheets. “I don’t have time for you today….”
She found her phone and glared at the screen.
“Me estás jodiendo?” she swore when she saw the name “John the Bastard” pop up on her screen. With a sigh she took the call, knowing he’d keep calling until she answered.
“John, I turned in everything three days ago.”
“I know, I know,” he said, sounding uncharacteristically apologetic. “But I need you.”
“I don’t like hearing those words from any man I’m not sleeping with.”
“Are you hitting on me, Bea?”
Beatriz sighed heavily into the phone and hoped it created ear-splitting feedback on the other end of the line.
“My cab is on its way right now,” Beatriz said. “I’m spending a week in Essex for my sister’s wedding. I don’t have time for this.”
“Not my problem,” he said, sounding like the old John the Bastard she knew. “Angie just called. Her column’s going to be late.”
“Medical crisis, Bea. Have some sympathy.”
“What’s her problem?”
“Carpal tunnel syndrome from too much masturbating.”
“Occupational hazard. I have no sympathy.”
“You’re stuttering, John.”
“Look, I’ll leave you alone. But I need a thousand words from you this week to fill Angie’s slot.”
“As much as I’d love to fill Angie’s slot, I’m a little busy this week doing wedding stuff with my family. Remember when I emailed you six months ago and said ‘Leave me alone the last week in August because my only sister is getting married’?”
“Well, I did. Family wedding time is not really the best time to be trying out new sex toys, okay?”
“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t an emergency. And you don’t have to try out new toys. You can do a book review.”
“A book review? I don’t get orgasms doing book reviews.”
“You have to write me something, Bea.”
“Fine. As long as Angie promises to return the favor sometime.”
“Does this mean you’ll have at least a thousand words for me in my inbox by Sunday night?”
“Sometimes I think I’m kinky because I fantasize about slapping you. And then I realize I really just want to slap you.”
“Beatriz,” John said in a stern voice. “Pause and take one little moment to remember that I pay you four hundred dollars a month to review sex toys. In other words, I pay you to have orgasms. Are you thinking about that?”
Beatriz paused, took a moment and remembered.
“Okay, you have a point there. I’ll get you a book review. I have a stack of unopened envelopes from publishers on my desk anyway.”
“Good. Now give me your hotel address so I can send you this new box of stuff I want you to review by next Sunday.”
“This slapping fantasy has returned.”
Beatriz gave him the hotel information. Hotel Essex, Essex, New York, care of Claudia Spears—her sister, she reminded him, who was about to get married. As she finished giving him the address her waiting cab honked outside the front door of her brownstone.
“Gotta go. Cab’s here.”
“Have fun,” John said.
“Have fun writing a book review?”
“You’ll find a way to make it fun, Bea. You always do….”
Without another word Bea hung up on him and tossed the phone into her purse. She shouldered her bag, grabbed her suitcase and raced past the desk in her tiny home office. She had a stack of unopened bubble mailers on her chair that had been accumulating for weeks. The return address label on the top envelope read “Brown Paper Publishing.” She knew Brown Paper. A boutique press, they specialized in coffee table books on risqué subject matter. Great. Perfect. Wonderful. Lots of pictures and very little text. Easy review for a busy Bea.
Beatriz shoved the envelope into her purse and headed out to her cab. She threw her stuff in the backseat and directed the driver to take her to the airport. Once they were on their way she pulled the envelope out of her purse. Maybe she could flip through the book on the plane ride upstate. She’d get the reading and the reviewing over with as soon as possible so she could relax and enjoy all the pre-wedding partying with her sister, Claudia, and Henry, her fiancé. This wouldn’t be a problem. Not a problem at all.
With one tear she ripped the envelope open and pulled out the book.
THE MANUAL it read in big gold type on a black cover. She flipped it over to the back and read the cover blurb.
A Sex Position Manual for Generation Y. If you read it, you will come…
Sex position manual? Beatriz nearly groaned aloud. There was only one way to review a sex position manual and that was by having sex with someone. And here she was on her way to a wedding with no date, no boyfriend, and no time to go back to her apartment and get another book. Which meant only one thing.
Once she got to Essex, she would have to find someone to sleep with.
“Fuck,” she breathed.
“Fuck what?” the cabdriver repeated, a smile on her face.
“No,” Beatriz said. “Fuck who.”
That was the question.
Ben arrived at the Essex Hotel just in time to keep Henry from drinking himself into a stupor at the bar. The groom-to-be had two empty beer bottles and one full shot glass in front of him. Henry reached for the shot and Ben covered it with his hand.
“Hey, whoa,” Henry said. “No shot-blocking.”
“I’m here to save you from yourself.” Ben slapped him on the back as he removed the shot glass from Henry’s vicinity. “Friends don’t let friends drink and wed.”
Henry groaned and leaned back in his bar stool before seemingly discovering there was no back to a bar stool. Ben grabbed his shoulder to steady him.
“Thank you.” Henry lifted his empty beer bottle in a salute. “Sit. Talk. Keep me from drinking. Drinking more, I mean.”
“Why are you drinking anyway?” Ben took the stool next to him. A pretty bartender, chocolate skin and ebony eyes, gave him a broad smile and an “I’ll be right there” wink as she poured a glass of wine for another customer. “Aren’t you happy? Big day coming up? Marriage? Kids? The dream all men dream of?”
Henry glared at Ben and Ben only laughed.
“I hate you,” Henry said. “And I hate you for the following three reasons. Number one—you’ve been here two minutes and the bartender is already flirting with you.”
“I can’t help that I’m prettier than you.”
“Number two.” Henry held up two fingers and feigned shoving them in Ben’s eyes. “I love Claudia. I can’t wait to marry her. But if she ever makes me have a wedding again, I’m going to divorce her. Well, just her family. She can stay.”
“Future mother-in-law driving you batshit?” Ben asked.
“Yes. Very batshit. But the wedding planner’s worse. Wants me to ask my own brother to step down as best man. Something about height symmetry.”
“Next time you get married…don’t.”
Henry tapped his forehead. “Genius, you are.”
“Thank you. I think I get smarter with every breakup.”
“You must be Einstein by now. Are you going to date and dump
“She does have nice eyes,” Ben agreed and then put all thoughts of beautiful bartenders out of his mind. “But no. After Katie, I swore off women for a year. I just need a break.”
“No women for a year? You?” Henry scoffed. “I give it two days.”
“It’s already been two months. And what’s the third reason?” Ben asked.
“The third reason you hate me, you half-drunk asshole.”
“Oh. Because you took my drink away, you not-drunk asshole.”
“Mine,” Ben said and downed the shot. He didn’t drink much, not anymore. Unavoidable adulthood had forced him to do terrible, awful things like drink less, eat better and work out more often. He’d never felt younger, healthier or more energetic since he started acting his age. How depressing. “If it makes you feel any better, man, I hate you, too.”
“Yeah, I don’t blame you for that.”
“You do know why Katie dumped me, right?” Ben asked and Henry gave him a guilty look.
“Does it start with a B?”
“She caught me reading Beatriz’s blog.”
“Reading it or, you know, reading it?”
“What do you think? When I told her who she was…” Ben winced at the memory of his final fight with Katie. The relationship would never have worked anyway. Katie wanted marriage and kids and as soon as possible. He needed more time to focus on his career and figure out what he wanted from life before going down that path of no return. And then she’d caught him masturbating to a blog column written by the one woman he’d never gotten over….
“Don’t kill me or anything, dude,” Henry said. “But speaking of people whose names start with B…”
“What?” Ben asked the question slowly, emphasizing every single letter in the word.
“You’re going to need to get back in drinking shape by tomorrow.”
Ben narrowed his eyes at Henry.
“Why?” He drew the “why” out as long as possible to maximize the threatening tone in his voice.
“Because…well, Bea’s coming.”
“What? I thought she was in Spain.”
“She was. But she moved back to the States two months ago. Just in time to come to the wedding.”
“You have got to be shitting me.” Ben’s stomach dropped. Then it jumped back up again at the thought of seeing Beatriz again for the first time since college. Would she look the same? Leggy, brown-haired, dark-eyed and beautiful? Talk the same? Sexy Spanish accent and nine kinds of attitude? Smell the same? Vanilla and strawberry shampoo?
“Ben, she’s Claudia’s foster sister. She’s in the wedding. You both are in the wedding. So, you know, take that.”
Ben took it. He took it hard. Beatriz…He’d loved that girl in college. He could own that now. Back then he’d pretended Beatriz was just another girl he wanted to sleep with, and when he didn’t, he told himself it was no big loss. But here he was, five years later, still thinking about her.
“Is she here yet?” Ben asked.
Henry raised an eyebrow at him and Ben’s stomach dropped once more. It went down and stayed down this time. Ben watched as Henry spun around in his bar stool and pointed across the lobby. Ben followed Henry’s gaze to where it stopped on a woman, tall with long straight black hair and deep copper skin. She had on jeans, a camisole that did nothing to disguise the fullness of her breasts, and a wide grin on her face as she chatted with the man at the registration desk. She was, in fact, the most beautiful woman in the entire world. Ben recognized her immediately.
“She’s here now,” Henry said.
Ben stared at Beatriz across the lobby. She didn’t see him, thank God, so he knew he could stare all he wanted.
“Orange,” Ben said, noting the color of Beatriz’s shirt. “She’s wearing an orange shirt and orange high heels.”
“She’s the only woman I’ve ever known who wears orange. She looks like a tropical flower, doesn’t she? God, she looks good in orange.”
“Man, I thought I was the drunk one.”
Ben looked down at the empty shot glass and back up at the bartender. She waited for his order. Five minutes ago she’d been a gorgeous girl he’d had fun flirting with. Now she was only the bartender. Good thing. What he needed right now was a bartender and nothing else. He pointed at the shot glass. She refilled it and started to walk off.
“Wait,” he said to her. She turned around with that same seductive smile. A smile that disappeared after his next three words. “Leave the bottle.”
Beatriz checked into the hotel at nine that evening, THE MANUAL still burning a hole in her bag. While the man at the desk processed her credit card and paperwork, Beatriz scanned the lobby looking for any suitable candidates to help her with her review. Maybe she’d get lucky and an “Attractive Men Looking For No Strings Attached Sexual Intercourse” conference would be happening at the Hotel Essex this week. She saw a few teenage boys loitering by the fountain. Too young. Three older couples talked in the vestibule. Too couple-y. A pretty girl about her age strode through the lobby pulling a wheeled suitcase behind her. Too female. Most days she wouldn’t have any problem with a few nights in bed with another woman, but the sex position manual was for heterosexual couples. Plus women tended to get clingy. She had no time for clingy.
She heard a shriek from the general elevator area and Beatriz took a steadying breath. Speaking of clingy women…
“Oh, my God!” Claudia rushed toward her and wrapped her up in a bear hug. Beatriz hugged back, knowing that a Claudia-hug, much like quicksand, trapped a person more the harder he or she struggled. Best to simply relax and take it. This, incidentally, was her philosophy of anal sex, as well. “When did you get in?”
“Just now. Checking in. You look amazing.” Beatriz pulled back enough to give Claudia a once-over. She hadn’t seen her foster sister in over a year. She’d expected her to look haggard from wedding planning, but she wore the look of love. “Engaged looks good on you. Where’s Henry?”
“Hiding in the bar,” Claudia said while the bellhop put Beatriz’s bags on the luggage rack. “The wedding planner’s driving him nuts. I’m about ready to hit her myself. Got any connections?”
“I do,” said the bellhop.
Beatriz made a mental note to give the bellhop a good tip.
“How bad is it?” she asked Claudia.
“Long story. It involves her trying to get Henry to rearrange his groomsmen so they line up by height. She thinks the tallest one should be best man. Henry’s brother was not amused.”
“Short men deserve love, too. Is Mike still single?”
Claudia shook her head. “Nope. He’s here with his girlfriend. Why?”
“I need to get laid. It’s work-related.”
Claudia nodded. She knew all about Beatriz’s work.
“I have connections there, too,” said the bellhop. Keaton, his nametag indicated.
“I love this guy,” Beatriz said as they neared the elevators.