Home > Tempt Me: A First Class Romance Collection

Tempt Me: A First Class Romance Collection
Author: Jessica Hawkins

1

 

If this isn’t fate, I don’t know what is.

The only coffee shop on Manhattan’s East Side that serves neither pistachio nor chocolate pastries is two blocks from my apartment. Pistachio’s not hard to avoid, but chocolate? Just proves you can find, or not find, anything in this city when you’ve got fate on your side. Maybe, finally, my luck is changing.

I pay for a coffee and sit at my table by the window. Another reason I was meant to find Lait Noir—my table is almost always available or opening up as I get my drink. That’s a certain kind of magic in a café as small as this one. The white walls and floor-to-ceiling windows help to hide how crowded it is, but some tables are crammed with two or more people, and nobody seems to know the person next to them. Every other coffee drinker has a laptop, tablet, or newspaper. Me? I must be old-fashioned. I get out a spiral-bound notebook I’ve kept in my camera bag since last October.

I blow on my drink. The heater’s on, but outside, people bundle under scarves, gloves, and coats. It’s the time of year when Macy’s bags make it all the way down here, even though the department store is a thirty-minute walk away.

Whenever gigs start to run dry, I go back to page one—a running list of ideas:

Travel the world with a camera, sending award-worthy shots to National Geographic.

Become the go-to photographer for New York’s most notable events.

Since neither of those have panned out, I scan to the bottom of the list.

Private Events

Teach a course

Weddings

Back to Wall Street

 

Returning to finance isn’t something I’d even considered a possibility after quitting my job last year. That’s how I know I’ve exhausted every option worth listing. I can’t go lower than slinking back to a career that almost suffocated me to death. And I won’t. Maybe a year of vainly trying to make a name for myself has been discouraging, but it hasn’t killed my hope completely.

I cross it off the list, and weddings too. They remind me of things better left forgotten.

Teaching?

I’ve taught my daughter a few things throughout her short, eight-year existence. The proper ratio of cereal to milk. How to swap out dopey white shoelaces for neon ones. The most efficient way to locate Waldo. Those are the easy things. I’ve got my work cut out for me in the more important departments. Can I make her understand that marriage is forever, even though she’s just lived through my divorce? That loving someone can never be a mistake, even though I’ve fucked it up twice?

No, I’m not meant to stand in front of a classroom. I’m not sure I can teach adults how to take pictures anyway. I have a degree in photography, so I’ve got the technical stuff covered. But art is more than a skill to be acquired—it’s communicating emotion, and I’m not equipped to teach anyone how to feel, especially since I’ve been the opposite of inspired lately. Every time something stirs in me, I’m reminded of how much I risked for inspiration last year. And how wrong I was about Sadie, the woman I thought was my soul mate.

I skip that option but leave it on the list. Some things have to be last resorts.

My phone vibrates.

We’re ready for you. Meet me at the listing on 28th & 10th Ave. 15 minutes.

I flip the notebook closed so quickly, my pen rolls off the side of the table. They call, I come. It’s my second time working with a realtor. I was referred to her, Liz, by another agent. Getting in the real estate circuit could mean steady work, so I don’t delay.

I feel around for the pen, but my hand hits something bigger. Something smooth. Sturdy. I pick up a well-worn, dark-tan leather book secured by long straps tied into a bow. It’s a journal, the kind that’s twice the size it used to be, pages swollen with life experiences. My ex has a few of these from high school. Boys, summer vacations, unfair-parent rants, and more boys. She’d wanted me to read them, but I’d only managed one flowery, overwritten description of the Trevi Fountain. I never went near them again.

This journal’s more substantial, though. The cover has paled and creased where the spine’s been bent. These pages have been visited over and over. It almost looks important, as if it doesn’t hold mindless streams of consciousness.

I inhale the musky leather before I realize it probably belongs to the girl next to me, and she might not appreciate a stranger smelling her things. Not that she’d notice. She’s buried under headphones, her eyes trained on her laptop, her table covered in loose papers. I tap her on the shoulder, and she glares at me. I hold up the book. “Yours?”

She shakes her head and returns to the screen. A few people look over at me. When nobody claims it, I untie the bow. A journal this worn and loved is bound to have a return address printed on the inside. I peel back the cover. The first page makes no introduction, no apology. There’s no “dear diary” printed across the top, no “this journal belongs to.” Just neat, girlish cursive.

Give me your fuck.

Split me down the middle with it.

My face warms. Without thinking, I read it again. This isn’t some banal musing on Italian art. This is intimate. Too intimate for a stranger’s eyes. I continue down the page. The beautiful penmanship breaks down quickly, bleeding into barely legible scrawl. Trying to make it out feels even more intrusive, but I can’t stop. The leather becomes less pleasant in my hands. Sticky. Hot. I turn the page.

Own me with your fingers. Trace the aches on my chest, touch the words it hurts me to say, press the exposed nerves around my heart until you hear my begging in your dreams.

My throat is thick, as if I’ve swallowed something I shouldn’t have. Beneath the text is a simple sketch of a man’s hands holding up a nude, ragdoll-like girl by her waist. Wide-eyed, her lips are parted, her cheeks pink—the only color in the photo.

I was happily yours until you fucked off.

The poetry in her words is gone, but the rawness strikes me in the gut. Just one sentence describes what Sadie left me with a year ago—a loving hate. Sweet, searing memories. The ache of desire mixed with the gut-churn of brutal rejection.

When I slam the book shut, I’m breathing hard. I’m going to be late to meet a client I can’t afford to piss off. I stick the journal in my bag and leave the coffee shop. I should turn it in to a barista, but my heart’s pounding, palms are sweating—things I haven’t felt since Sadie. Fucking her, wanting to fuck her, watching her return to her husband—my reaction was always the same, physical.

I don’t exactly enjoy ripping open old wounds, but I need this journal in my possession. Right now, the words inside it belong to me.

I meet my new client at a building between Tenth and Eleventh Avenue. Commercial gigs weren’t exactly what I had in mind when I left Wall Street. I’d opted to shoot now and aim later, so to speak. But between child support, alimony, and renting a two-bedroom apartment in the city, I can’t be picky.

Liz looks about my age, with dyed red hair and frown lines that give the impression she’s permanently stressed. She lets me into the freshly-staged apartment. “You look just like the photo on your website,” she says. “Most people don’t, as if I’d hire or not hire someone just based on their face.” She looks at my hair. It gets a lot of female attention, always has. There’s a ton of it. “I’ve got girlfriends who’d kill for that golden color,” she says. “What’s the name of it?”

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